Palace clarifies PRRD West PH Sea ‘co-ownership’ remark

MANILA � Malacanang on Thursday clarified President Rodrigo Duterte's statement which likened the proposed joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to co-ownership.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace media briefing that Duterte just wanted to point out that joint exploration and exploitation can be undertaken by both Filipino and Chinese nationals.

Now having said that, you know, ownership is not material here because really the areas that may be subjected to joint development is exclusive economic zone where we only have sovereign rights, Roque explained.

So let's not talk about ownership, because sovereign rights are different from title, he added.

During the inauguration of a housing project for Marawi residents last Wednesday, Duterte said joint exploration is "better than going into war with China".

"Now their (China's) offer is joint exploration, which is like co-ownership. It's like the two of us would be the owners. I think that's better than fighting," the President said.

Practical solution

Roque also explained that any joint exploration with Chinese companies does not mean the Philippines recognizes China's sovereign rights over WPS.

It's a practical solution for the Filipinos to utilize natural resources without having to deal with the contentious conflicting claims to territories, he said.

Roque said the President's pronouncements remain consistent that the Philippines cannot go to war that it cannot win in pursuing its territorial claim in WPS.

He (Duterte) will not lose Filipino lives on an issue that he thinks we cannot win, neither in near future nor in the medium term, Roque said in an interview with cable television ANC.

Contrary to Justice Antonio Carpio's claim that joint exploration could be unconstitutional, Roque said the joint exploration was sanctioned by the Supreme Court, citing a 2004 La Bugal ruling which provides that the President could enter into agreements with foreign entities for large-scale explorations.

The existing jurisprudence is 'yes,' we can enter into joint exploration and joint exploitation with foreign entities provided that it complies with the Constitution among others, it be pursuant to a written agreement signed by the President and submitted to Congress, Roque explained.

Roque has clarified that any joint exploration agreement that the Philippines might enter into is not with Chinese government itself but with Chinese entities, including state-owned companies.

If there will be agreement, rest assured that we will inform the whole nation, Roque assured.

'Good faith'

Roque, meanwhile, said Malacanang still relies on China's good faith commitment not to make new artificial islands in Scarborough Shoal because they have not done so.

Scarborough Shoal is claimed only by the Philippines and China while Spratly's Group of Islands where China started to build artificial islands even before Duterte's came to office midway of 2016 are also claimed by other nations, according to Roque.

We don't want anyone making an artificial island out of the lagoon in Scarborough Shoal. Obviously, for defense reasons, they are close to Zambales. And number two, for ecological reason. That's literally an aquarium, Roque said.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court on Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines' case contesting China's nine-dash line claim that covers nearly the whole of WPS which supposedly rich in oil and gas resources.

Duterte has opted to temporarily shelve the decision to give way friendly and peaceful dialogues while improving economic ties as well as people-to-people exchanges with China.

Source: Philippine News Agency