Philippines, China pursuing joint energy exploration in West Philippine Sea
This March 22, 2021 aerial photo shows Chinese vessels still present in the Julian Felipe Reef in the West Philippine Sea, well within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
Armed Forces of the Philippines

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Despite their still unresolved maritime rift, the Philippines and China remain open to the prospect of joint oil and gas explorations in contested waters.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo disclosed the scenario and emphasized that any talks or discussions on the matter would be based on the country’s laws.

“In any negotiation on oil and gas, the Philippine position has always been that we will be guided by the constitutional requirements. And that’s how we will proceed in the next round,” he said in a report on GMA7 Wednesday night.

He also told ABS-CBN News yesterday that preliminary talks would focus on technical matters including the general terms of reference to guide future discussions.

The foreign affairs official’s raising the possibility of joint exploration came amid an escalation of Chinese’ provocative actions in the West Philippine Sea, including their deployment of more coast guard vessels in waters within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

At least 20 Chinese coast guard and naval vessels have been spotted in the vicinity of the Kalayaan Island Group, many of which have ignored radio challenges or have made their own against Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels on patrol in the area.

In a statement, the PCG said the BRP Malapascua (MRRV-4403) spotted and issued radio challenges against Chinese coast guard vessels and a Jiangdao II Class missile corvette during a patrol mission from March 16 to 21. The PCG also reported spotting Vietnamese vessels in the vicinity of Sabina Shoal, which it tried to drive away by deploying rigid-hull inflatable boats from Malapascua. It was not clear if the Vietnamese boats left.

“The PCG vessels also encountered at least two CCGV’s with bow numbers 5304 and 5305 near (Sabina) shoal. Multiple radio challenges were issued by the PCG vessel, but no response was received. Rigid-hull inflatable boats were deployed to disperse the foreign vessels in and around the shoal,” the PCG said.

Off of Pag-asa Island, the PCG said that the Malapascua also encountered a Chinese naval vessel with hull number 649 within Pag-asa’s 12-nautical mile territorial waters. The PCG said it issued “multiple radio challenges while the PLAN vessel responded with its own challenge.”

The PCG said the Malapascua also sighted CCGV 5201 while it was on its way to Buliluyan Port in Palawan.

The Chinese vessel ignored the PCG radio challenge and even shadowed the Malapascua at a distance of some 1,600 yards. The Chinese coast guard ship was only some 1.2 nautical miles from a Philippine military outpost on the grounded Sierra Madre.

As this developed, Philippine Navy spokesman Capt. Benjo Negranza confirmed yesterday the transfer of the former USS Monsoon (PC4) and USS Chinook (PC9) to the Philippines – through the Excess Defense Articles program – following their decommissioning in Manama, Bahrain last Tuesday.

The two Cyclone-class patrol ships are expected to arrive in the country sometime in May this year.

“A welcome addition to the Alvarez-Class Patrol Ships of the Littoral Combat Force, they are projected to undertake coastal patrols along our littoral waters and Sea Lanes of Communications, Maritime Interdiction Operations, Escort Operations, Surveillance and Special Operations, as well as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Operations,” — Negranza said. – Robertzon Ramirez