THE Department of Energy (DoE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are seeking ways to resume exploration in the West Philippine Sea as pandemic restrictions ease, citing the need to assert sovereignty in disputed waters.

“While we are protecting our territories, the DoE is trying to work together with the DFA on how we can continue exploration in the area,” Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi was quoted as saying in a statement Sunday.

The matter was brought up in a recent meeting of the Regional Peace and Order Council of the MIMAROPA region, which is made up of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan. Mr. Cusi, who was present, is MIMAROPA’s Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security.

Exploration in the disputed waters was halted because of restrictions adopted to contain the coronavirus. Investor interest also suffered because of the collapse in global oil prices because of the pandemic, which dried up demand.

China is still pursuing its expansion plans into the South China Sea, including its designation of the Paracel islands near Vietnam and the Spratly islands as new districts of Sansha City under the jurisdiction of Hainan Province.

The government will resume energy exploration work in its territorial waters in order “to attain energy security,” Mr. Cusi said.

“We are doing this without compromising our sovereignty. That’s one thing we can assure you as we progress in our exploration on how to develop and utilize the resources there at the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

The identities of the bidders seeking to explore three oil blocks in the West Philippine Sea have yet to be made public after the period for challenging their bids lapsed in May.

These prospects were nominated under the DoE’s Philippine Conventional Energy Contracting Program, a petroleum service contract awarding mechanism that allows the government to develop indigenous petroleum resources in partnership with qualified domestic and international exploration companies.

Under the program, service contracts are awarded via a competitive selection process or via nomination. — Adam J. Ang