The Department of Energy (DOE) said over the weekend it will study the implication of the Supreme Court (SC) decision declaring as unconstitutional the tripartite agreement for a joint marine seismic undertaking (JMSU) between the Philippines, Vietnam, and China, which covered 142,886 square kilometers in the South China Sea.
The DOE said the SC decision, released in full on Friday but promulgated on Jan. 10, 2023, invalidated as unconstitutional the tripartite agreement for JMSU in the South China Sea by and among China National Offshore Oil Corp. and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp. and Philippine National Oil Co..
“The DOE will work closely with the Office of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice in determining the next steps to be taken on the matter,” DOE Undersecretary Alessandro Sales said.
The JMSU was signed on March 14, 2005, before incumbent Secretary of Energy Raphael P.M. Lotilla assumed office in his first tenure as Energy Secretary.
The Philippine Energy Independence Council earlier expressed hope data gathered from JMSU can be used to identify new oil and gas exploration areas.
“I see the recent decision by the SC more positive than negative as it provided more clarity on our country’s position on exploration in the West Philippine Sea,” PEIC president Don Paulino said.
PEIC is the first formal association in the country committed mainly to achieving the Philippines’ energy independence.
“I am also hopeful that with this decision, the seismic data gathered from the JMSU can now be used by PNOC EC [PNOC Exploration Corp.] to further identify potential areas of exploration in WPS [West Philippine Sea],” he said.
The SC resolved to declare JMSU as unconstitutional “for allowing wholly-owned foreign corporations to participate in the exploration of the country’s natural resources without observing the safeguards provided in Section 2, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution.”
The SC decision raised questions about whether the Philippines can continue talks with China for a possible joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea.
“I think we can continue to explore with countries like China as long as the service contract is signed under PD 87,” Paulino said.
However, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian earlier said the SC ruling meant that any exploration should be under the full control and supervision of the state.
“Our government should be the one revising and it should be under our local laws and constitution. So this sets the parameter for any joint exploration that will be undertaken by, whether it’s China or other countries, but it’s just a parameter and it will now guide the potential joint exploration that is being discussed between the Philippines and China,” Gatchalian, co-chair of the Senate Committee on Energy said.
Gatchalian said the Philippines should explore all possibilities in terms of harnessing oil and gas in that area.
“The West Philippine Sea is the most prolific when it comes to oil and gas, and it’s to our interest to be energy secure. Therefore, we should explore the potential of the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
“However, we’re also looking for ways to work with China. But the Supreme Court already set the minimum standard, and I think the overarching message of the Supreme Court there in their decision is that our constitution should prevail,” Gatchalian said.