Press Release
July 22, 2011

Revival of joint seismic study urged
PH must take lead in joint exploration of Spratlys

Sen. Ralph G. Recto yesterday urged the Aquino government to take the lead in pursuing a joint economic exploration of the disputed Spratly Islands among claimant countries as a way of "moving forward" on the long pestering issue.

"We just can't say we're open to the idea and sit idly. We should take the initiative to make this happen. A joint exploration is the only sensible thing to do in harnessing the economic potentials of Spratlys without having to fire one single shot or sinking a gun boat," Recto, a senior member of the Senate committees on foreign relations and of national defense and security, said.

Recto said the joint exploration initiative could be pushed even while issues on ownership are still being resolved under the auspices of ASEAN or United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"We can't wait another 30 years for this issue to be resolved. If claimants would only agree now, whatever natural resources underneath Spratlys could be shared equitably for the economic benefits of all nations. Who knows, after 30 years when the oil or natural gas is fully depleted, not a claimant would show interest anymore," he said.

"The joint exploration would not mean surrendering one nation's claim or sovereignty but embracing a common workable solution to a long-standing problem," Recto added.

The senator said the country did its own joint exploration with the natural gas find in Malampaya off Palawan not with another sovereign nation but with a private multinational consortium led by Shell and Chevron. The Spratly islands is said to be sitting on large deposits of natural gas and oil.

Recto said for starters, the country could spearhead the forging of another joint marine seismic undertaking (JMSU) among claimant countries, after the first one with China and Vietnam that was signed way back in 2005 lapsed in 2008.

The JMSU, which was signed in March 2005 by the Philippines and China, called for the two countries' joint exploration of petroleum resource potential in the South China Sea.

When Vietnam, a claimant of portions of the Spratlys, protested, it was included in the agreement. The JMSU was not renewed after it lapsed in July 2008.

"We probe together for oil then we harvest the proceeds equitably," Recto, who also chairs the Senate committee on ways and means, said.

Recto said the country is in a unique location to mediate a joint exploitation among claimant nations because of its proximity to the disputed islands.

"The Chinese nor the Vietnamese could not singlehandedly lay down their own natural gas or oil pipelines all the way from Spratlys to their home soil. The more economical way is to use our existing Malampaya gas pipeline that stretches from Palawan waters to South Luzon where each claimant would converge to pick up and load their share," he said.

The senator said in return for the use of the gas pipeline, the country could just charge handling fee.

Recto said the joint exploration proposal could be part of the talking agenda that the President will bring to the table when he visits China in August or September this year.

"If we could sell this idea to the Chinese, it would not be difficult to convince the others," he said. Recto further pointed out: "Let's leave the sovereignty issue to DFA. Our focus is on how we can make use of the economic potentials of Spratlys now while zealous foreign ministers debate over the next decade their sovereign claims."

A meeting of senior foreign officials from ASEAN countries and China to finalize the implementing guidelines on the 2002 Code of Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea has produced mixed reviews with other participants griping over a watered down version of the draft guidelines.

In the same meeting, the ASEAN secretariat "noted with appreciation" the proposal of the Philippines to declare South China Sea into a "Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Cooperation."

Recto said the country's top foreign officials should have been more specific in also calling for a "joint economic cooperation" in Spratlys to start the ball rolling.

Aside from Vietnam and China, the other nations contesting the country's claim over Spratlys are Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

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