Is asserting our rights while exploring gas, oil in West Philippine Sea doable?

Can we explore and eventually extract gas and oil from our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in cooperation with our neighbors while at the same time asserting our rights as owner of the hotly contested West Philippine Sea?

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian believes this is possible, even doable.

“We have to keep on pushing in, saying: ‘Look, this is part of our EEZ.’ We need to harness oil and gas in that area because we need to be energy secured,” said Senator Gatchalian in a recent interview on ANC’s Headstart last August 6, 2019.

I definitely agree with the good senator. Sustaining our economic growth and seeing to it that the benefits spread to our poorest of the poor means we need to drive down our annual import bill.

Last March 2019, I read this news item that observed domestic demand for petroleum products increased by only 1.4 percent in volume in 2018. However, our import bill leaped by 32 percent in value.

But why continue to rely mostly on imports for our fuel needs? Can’t we set out to tap our vast resources at the West Philippine Sea, known globally as the South China Sea?

Robert D. Kaplan in his book Asia’s Cauldron: South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific said:

… the South China Sea has proven oil resources of proven oil reserves of seven billion barrels, and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, however noted that there is a moratorium on oil exploration and drilling works in the Reed (Recto) Bank in 2014.

“This is a very sensitive issue. But in my view, we have to assert our rights over the EEZ to explore oil and gas in that area because we need it. We cannot rely on importation all the time and forever,” he said.

Towards this direction,  the senator also welcomed any country who is inclined to do a joint exploration with the Philippines.

“Let us welcome that because we don’t have the technology, and the technology is very expensive,” although this has to operate within Philippine domestic laws and framework, he said.

While the Philippines is doing a balancing act vis-a-vis China and the United States, we need to push for more Senate and congressional support especially with placing the joint exploration efforts under Philippine laws.

But from where I’m sitting now, I can only see this happening with enough push by media and the general public.


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