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DoE refers China joint exploration questions to DFA after SC ruling 

THE Energy department said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will determine the next move for joint oil and gas exploration after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled against any undertaking with foreign partners in disputed waters.

“Perhaps the DFA could answer on how this will affect (the government’s options) moving forward as they are the lead agency that focuses on the plan… for joint exploration,” a representative of the Department of Energy (DoE) said in a Viber message on Wednesday.

The SC ruled that a 2005 government deal with China and Vietnam for joint gas and oil exploration in the South China Sea was unconstitutional.

The DoE said that it has yet to receive a copy of the decision.

Voting 12-2-1, the SC said that the 2005 tripartite agreement for joint marine seismic undertaking (JMSU) was unconstitutional because it allowed foreign entities to explore for Philippine natural resources over 142,886 square kilometers without full government supervision.

“For the environmentalists and people’s groups in our network, this decision spells stronger protection of the resources of the West Philippine Sea and their preservation for the next generation,” Jon Bonifacio, national director of Kalikasan People’s Network, a coalition of green groups, said in a statement.

Mr. Bonifacio said that the decision is also a concrete step in addressing the climate crisis, and serves to deter “any plans by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to explore for fossil fuels in those waters.”

The JMSU was signed in 2005 between the China National Offshore Oil Corp., Vietnam’s Oil and Gas Corp., and the Philippine National Oil Co.

On Monday, Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla said that one of the agenda items during a visit by Mr. Marcos to China on Jan. 3-5 was the resumption of talks for joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

He said that China and Philippines both agreed to “resume talks,” but no specific activities were agreed concerning Recto Bank, which is covered by Service Contract (SC) 72.

“We will have to be guided by the DFA with the timing and the subject matter of the resumption of talks and the venue of the talks. We will have to await their guidance,” Mr. Lotilla said on Monday.

PXP Energy Corp. was hoping to resume discussions on joint exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

Its subsidiary, Forum (GSEC 101) Ltd. is the operator of SC 72 at Recto Bank. PXP Energy also holds a 50% interest in SC 75 in northwest Palawan. These areas are also in contested waters.

The DoE in April ordered the suspension of exploration activity in the West Philippine Sea due to the maritime dispute. This led to the suspension of all exploration work in SC 72 and 75.

In October, the DoE approved the declaration of force majeure covering the two service contracts in response to a PXP Energy request made in April. — Ashley Erika O. Jose 

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