A buoy marking Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea (Vourtesy of PCG)

MANILA – The Philippines and China have so far made “initial and general discussions” on possible joint oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) but have not yet progressed to “working-level talks,” the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported on Monday.

In a statement, the DFA said such topics were discussed during the visits of China State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and International Department Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Minister Liu Jianchao in July and August.

“The official talks have not gone beyond initial discussions, which were done during the visits,” it said.

Possible joint exploration, it said, was previously raised by China, with the Philippines “open to restarting negotiations” as long as discussions “fall within limits stipulated in the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines."

It said the Marcos administration wishes to “build on the gains that have been reached in principle by our predecessors” under a new and mutually-agreeable framework.

“The Philippines approaches these matters with our national interest in mind, embodied in the Philippine Constitution. All our endeavors on this issue will respect international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the 2016 Arbitration Award,” it said.

It brushed off reports that China wishes to have a 50-50 profit sharing on such a joint project.

“As we are still in the initial stages, it is too early to discuss profit sharing at this point,” it said.

To date, the DFA continues to “explore all avenues of cooperation” that could be mutually beneficial.

“This matter only comprises one aspect of Philippines-China relations; as such, the Department will continue to coordinate with the concerned national agencies and our Chinese counterparts on developing our relations,” it said.

Earlier, former DFA secretary Albert del Rosario advised that the Marcos administration proceed with oil and gas exploration in the WPS without restarting joint exploration talks with China due to the continued increase in energy prices in the international market.

Del Rosario said the Philippines could take inspiration from Malaysia and Indonesia, which both sent drilling ships to their respective territorial waters despite being contested by China.

Senator Robinhood Padilla, in a privilege speech on Monday, likewise urged his colleagues to study the possibility of joint development in the WPS.

He recalled that when he went to the WPS last year accompanied by Philippine Coast Guard representatives and fisherfolk aboard a fishing vessel, they saw several large Chinese vessels and a Vietnamese vessel near Reed (Recto) Bank, which is supposed to be within the Philippines’ territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.

Padilla has filed Senate Resolution No. 9 to get the ball rolling on a joint oil exploration.

"Ang sa ganang akin naman po ay isang mapagkumbabang panawagan na maging bukas tayo sa abot ng ating makakaya sa mga pamamaraang nakikita natin na maaaring makatulong upang maiwasan ang nararamdamang sakit ng ating bayan, lalo ang naghihikahos nating mga kababayan (I am humbly calling for an open mind in finding ways to address the sufferings in our country, especially of impoverished Filipinos)," he said in his privilege speech. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)