The Philippines can now freely, but cautiously, explore for oil and natural gas resources in Reed Bank after a UN-backed arbitral tribunal declared the area as part of the country’s exclusive economic zone, Supreme Court Senior Justice Antonio Carpio has said.
Reed Bank, located off the coast of Palawan, is believed to be the country’s next important source of these resources, with the Malampaya offshore natural gas field expected to be depleted in the next 10 years, Carpio said on Friday at the Trident Security Forum at Solaire Hotel.
“The Reed Bank is free from overlapping claims (based on the arbitral ruling), so we can proceed with plans to explore for oil and gas resources there,” Carpio said. “But we should be more prudent to sit down first with China and say: There is this ruling, we have to exercise our rights over the area.”
Drilling operations at Reed Bank were suspended while the Philippines pressed its case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which after more than three years effectively threw out on June 12 China’s claim of historical rights to nearly all of the South China Sea.
It said the Chinese claim went against exclusive economic zones established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China has rejected the ruling, and has indirectly blamed the United States, Manila’s key military ally, for encouraging the Philippine move. (See related stories on Page A5.)
President Duterte has said he may send a special envoy to Beijing to discuss ways of moving things forward, even as the Department of Foreign Affairs has rejected a demand by the Chinese government to disregard the arbitral ruling as a starting point for two-way talks.
Soften China’s anger
Murray Hiebert, deputy director for Southeast Asia of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said Manila could look for closer “ways to cooperate” with Beijing amid an expected blow back.
“The Philippines should look for ways to engage China to build infrastructure projects in the country,” Hiebert said in an interview during a recent post-arbitration forum at the UP College of Law.
He said the Philippines “should explore ways to soften the anger of China before it starts the formal talks (regarding the disputed waters).”
Solicitor General Jose Calida said the arbitral ruling would help the Philippines set the parameters for future bilateral negotiations with China to manage resources in the disputed waters.
“There are now moves for back-channel negotiations with China and it we will be guided by what is provided under the Constitution and what the arbitral ruling says,” Calida said.