Senator Sherwin Gatchalian (PNA file photo by Avito Dalan)

MANILA - Senator Sherwin Gatchalian emphasized on Friday that the possibility of a joint oil exploration between China and the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) would only materialize if the east Asian country recognizes the Philippine Constitution.

"Our Constitution should be the enabling document, and that's our minimum standard and if China cannot follow that, then this is where the complexity will come in," Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said in an interview with ANC.

Gatchalian's statement came after the Supreme Court on Tuesday declared as unconstitutional the 2005 agreement on joint exploration by the Philippines, China, and Vietnam of an area in the disputed South China Sea.

Gatchalian explained that although the SC ruling upholds the country's right to be in charge of its territory, it would only bring more complexity to the situation as China would not also drop its territorial claims on WPS.

"What our country and China want to do is to study all the complications and study how to move forward but then again, the Supreme Court decision sets the parameters on what they should be looking at, and it becomes the minimum requirement for any joint exploration moving forward," Gatchalian said.

"I'm not so optimistic that we can move forward with this joint exploration. It's good that we are talking. It's good that we are open to it. But when you go to the nitty gritty of things, especially the governing law that should prevail. I think we will hit a snag with that issue, and I think that the best case here or the best evidence will be what was discussed during the last administration," he added.

The administration of then President Rodrigo Duterte, he said, had been in talks with China about the exploration for four years and yet, no actual agreement has been reached.

“Obviously, after four years, nothing happened and obviously, it's more complex than what they thought and obviously, there are a lot of things that they cannot agree on," the lawmaker said.

One of the things that the two countries could not agree on, Gatchalian said, is which law should govern the joint exploration.

During the recent state visit of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in China, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping both agreed to resume discussions on oil and gas development.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that both leaders had talked about the Memorandum of Understanding on Oil and Gas Development signed in 2018, assuring that the upcoming discussions would be “building upon the outcomes of the previous talks.” (PNA)