FOREIGN AFFAIRS Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano announced yesterday that he already has a copy of a “rough draft” of the framework for the planned joint oil exploration with China in the contested West Philippine Sea.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Mr. Cayetano said the next step is consulting government lawyers, including Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo, as well as lawyers with expertise in the oil and gas sector.
“I will be consulting lawyers on oil and gas, consulting Malacañang lawyers, maybe the executive secretary, maybe Salvador Panelo on the constitutional side,” he said.
The country’s top diplomat also said that he will discuss the draft framework with his counterpart, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is expected to visit the Philippines this month.
Mr. Cayetano added that the Philippine government is working to immediately finish the framework so both parties could reach an agreement.
“We are trying to rush the framework, so if it is acceptable on both sides, even an agreement on principles between DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and China, then it will be a giant step.”
No deadline has been set for the framework, but Mr. Cayetano said they are aiming to have the exploration activities started next year.
“We are still an oil importing country. If we become an oil exporter, it will change our country in terms of economics, finances, our availability of oil and gas, cost power, the amount of taxes,” he said.
Mr. Cayetano also said both countries are “cautiously enthusiastic” about the oil exploration prospects.
“Enthusiastic because it seems we both agree that it will benefit our region, it will benefit Philippines and China. We both agreed that there will be a framework that is constitutional under the Philippine laws and acceptable in Chinese laws.”
At the same time, he said the administration is being careful about the terms of the framework, which will be subject to the approval of the legislative and judicial branches of government.
When asked about the revenue sharing agreement, Mr. Cayetano said that matter is not yet in the draft, but it is already “on the table.”
“Since we are talking about exploration, there [are] still no talks yet on division. In the important part of the exploration, one, it is done together. And two, the information is completely shared in both sides.”
Mr. Cayetano did say that China is still open to the proposed 60-40 split in favor of the Philippines. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras