February 6, 2023

Juan Kabayan

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Marcos pushes joint exploration of WPS

(UPDATE) PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Thursday said the Philippine government will find “other ways” to proceed with the joint exploration with China of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) if government-to-government talks do not work out.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Kadiwa ng Pasko Caravan in Quezon City, Marcos said oil exploration is a “small thing” for China but something significant for the Philippines.

“We’ll have to find a way kasi kailangan na natin eh (we really need it now). We already need, kung mahanap dyan kailangan na talaga ng Pilipinas (whatever resources we could find because the Philippines really need that now),” Marcos said.

The President said the constitutional problems delaying the joint exploration must be resolved.

“Kasi kini-claim ng China kanila ‘yun, eh atin naman talaga iyan. So, sinasabi ng Pilipinas, basta’t ‘yung batas kailangan masundan ‘yung sa Pinas (China is claiming the [South China Sea] as its property, but it’s ours. For the Philippines’ part, we have to follow the law),” he said.

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“Ang sinasabi naman ng Chinese, hindi, amin iyan eh, kaya’t kailangan masundan is Chinese. Kaya ‘yun talaga ang roadblock doon (The Chinese are saying that they own that, and they want their own terms to be followed. That’s the roadblock there),” he said.

Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, had terminated joint-exploration discussions with Beijing.

The two countries signed the memorandum of understanding in 2018, but the Philippine government said the goal of developing the oil and gas resources was not achieved.

Last September, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Manila and Beijing were into “initial and general discussions” but have not progressed into “working-level talks.”

During their first bilateral meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, last month, Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that the immediate conclusion of negotiations for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea will help address the maritime dispute among the claimant-states.

Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea, a portion of which has been renamed by the Philippines as the West Philippine Sea.

In 2016, the Philippines scored a victory against China when the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, declared Beijing’s claim over nearly the South China Sea as illegal.

China has refused to acknowledge the ruling.

Marcos also said during an interview that the decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States is “continuously under negotiation and under evolution.”

Noting that “things are changing,” the President said that Malacañang has been on the receiving end of “many requests and proposals” from the US government on how to improve cooperation on security and defense, particularly those specified under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“So, all of that is under study now to see what is really feasible and what will be the most useful for the defense of Philippine territory,” he said, noting that security and defense were among the issues he discussed with US Vice President Kamala Harris recently.

“Yes, we covered that and many more subjects. But essentially, on the security, ‘yun tinitingnan natin ‘yung kanilang pino-propose, ‘yung mga joint exercises (we are looking at what they are proposing, the joint exercises), and EDCA, the use of our bases, all of these. We are in the middle of that,” the President said.

During the meeting with Harris, Marcos reiterated that he does “not see the future of the Philippines without the United States.”

Harris in turn reaffirmed her government’s commitment to the Philippines, a “multifaceted” relationship “based on mutual commitment to the economic prosperity of the region and our respective nations.”

Harris, the highest ranking American official to visit the country in recent years, also called out the harassment of Filipino security forces in the West Philippine Sea.

Any “armed attack on the Philippines, armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea” would trigger the US government to “invoke US mutual defense commitments,” she said.

National Security Adviser Secretary Clarita Carlos earlier stated that the government has created a panel that will study and review the MDT that was forged by the two nations in 1951.

The group, according to Carlos, is composed of officials from the National Security Council, the Department of National Defense and the DFA.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has said that the Senate must also be a part of the review.

The Palace has yet to react to Gatchalian’s statement.