MANILA - The government's decision to lift a 6-year-old moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea is "an exercise of our sovereign rights" that "in no way" weakens Manila's maritime claims against China, an official said Monday.
“This lifting of the moratorium is an exercise of our sovereign rights. Ginagawa na po natin iyan so (there is) no way it weakens the arbitral decision,” Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi told reporters.
(We are already doing that)
While sovereign rights is defined as an "exclusive right," that right "may be shared" with others, added Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
“The decision to share it is part of the sovereign rights,” he said in the same briefing.
President Rodrigo Duterte last week lifted the moratorium, imposed in 2014 due to a territorial dispute with China, paving the way for three projects to resume and for the energy ministry to award more service contracts.
The lifting comes after Duterte made his strongest defense last month of a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal denying China's claims to the energy-rich waters, telling the United Nations General Assembly "we firmly reject attempts to undermine it".
China hoped it could work together with the Philippines in jointly developing energy projects in the South China Sea, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
"China and the Philippines have reached consensus on the joint development of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea and have established a cooperation mechanism for relevant consultations," Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing on Friday.
"I hope and believe that the 2 sides will meet each other halfway, promote joint development, and continue to make positive progress," he said.
Cusi earlier said there was no prohibition on ending the moratorium unilaterally and hoped it could expedite projects and help the Philippines address energy security issues.
He expressed confidence that Philippine companies could proceed without any obstruction from China since "it follows that we can do our activity freely as the country that has economic rights" over the areas involved.
Cusi said three projects could now resume, including one by Forum Energy Ltd, a unit of PXP Energy Corp.
Forum has a 70-percent interest in Service Contract 72 covering gas exploration in the disputed Reed Bank. PXP has had talks with China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) about joint exploration and development there.
CNOOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
PXP's shares surged by 50 percent to the highest in 8 months.
Cusi said 3 more project proposals, including one by Udenna Corp, were under evaluation.
“We are open to all nationalities mag-apply for service contract,” he said.
- With reports from Reuters; Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News