The Philippines must find a way to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea even without a deal with China, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Thursday, stressing his country’s right to exploit the energy reserves in the contested waterway.
“This is a big deal for us, so we have to fight (for what’s ours) and benefit if there’s really oil there,” Marcos told reporters.
Talks on joint energy exploration between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea have ended, the previous government said in June, citing constitutional restrictions and sovereignty issues.
“This is the roadblock, it’s hard to see how we can solve this. I think there could be other ways that it doesn’t have to be G-to-G (government-to-government),” Marcos said.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Marco’s comments came after his foreign minister said in August that Manila was open to new talks with China over oil and gas exploration and that any deal with China or any other country would have to comply with Philippine law.
The Philippines relies heavily on imported fuel for its energy needs, making it vulnerable to supply shocks and rising oil prices, which have helped push inflation to a near 14-year high.
During a three-day visit last week, US Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed US defense commitments to the Philippines and reaffirmed her support for a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea.
The ruling, which China refused to recognize, says the Philippines has the sovereign right to exploit energy reserves within its 200-mile (321-kilometer) Exclusive Economic Zone.
Marcos said Thursday “we will have something more concrete” to announce by early next year about US proposals for access to Philippine military bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Washington has proposed adding more sites to the current five under EDCA, allowing rotation of US military ships and aircraft at mutually agreed bases.
Philippine company PXP Energy Corp, which holds an exploration permit in Reed Bank, a disputed area, has held talks with China National Offshore Oil Corp for a joint venture. But conflicting claims from Manila and Beijing have prevented it from drilling further and reaching an agreement with CNOOC.