The Department of Energy (DoE) on Friday voiced optimism that the Philippines would finally attain energy independence after the government lifted the ban on oil and gas exploration activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS or South China Sea) on its recommendation.
In a virtual conference on Friday, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said lifting the ban was a “concrete step” toward achieving energy security, as well as curbing oil and electricity prices in the country.
“Basically the reason [for the recommendation] is we need to address our energy security. We need to harness [our] energy sources…for the future of our country and [our] people,” Cusi explained.
“Matagal na…aspiration ng ating bansa (The country has long aspired) to have energy indepence and security. This is a concrete step in pursuing energy security [for] the country…dahil sabi natin, hindi naman pwedeng lagi na lang tayong (because we say we cannot always be) subject to vulnerability,” he said.
According to the DoE chief, lifting the moratorium would spur investments in the West Philippine Sea and create jobs and other opportunities, which could help the economy recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The ban was imposed by former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd in 2014, when escalating disputes with China over the reputedly resource-rich sea prompted his administration to take the East Asian country to international arbitration.
The lifting of the moratorium was part of the Duterte administration’s efforts to proceed with a potential joint oil exploration deal with China, the broad strokes of which were agreed upon in 2018.
Addressing issues raised over the Philippines’ joint exploration activities with China, Cusi said lifting of the ban was the decision of the Duterte administration alone.
Based on the announcement of his department’s Chinese counterparts, he said the DoE was enthusiastic that the service contractors involved in the exploration would be able to operate freely in the area.
“This decision is done unilaterally and there’s no prohibition about that. I don’t think it will negativley affect us. We should be able to do our exploration activities peacefully,” Cusi said.
The DoE is yet to estimate the amount of petroleum that can be extracted from the West Philipline Sea, but Cusi said investments could reach to “millions of dollars.”
Sixty percent of total revenues from the exploration activities would go to the national treasury and the rest to the exploration companies, according to Cusi.