Any deal between the Philippines and the Chinese to jointly drill for gas on Reed Bank in the South China Sea would be illegal unless Beijing recognised Manila’s maritime sovereignty, a Philippine judge has said.
The Philippines has identified two areas in the waterway suited to exploration and the two countries are negotiating the diplomatic and legal hurdles of jointly exploring in the waters. But they have not yet addressed the thorny issue of sovereignty.
Reed Bank is claimed by both nations with international law saying it is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Antonio Carpio, the acting senior judge at the Supreme Court, said it was legal for the Philippines’ energy ministry to hold talks with the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) as a potential subcontractor.
“There’s no problem as long as CNOOC recognises that that is our exclusive economic zone,” he told ANC. “But that is the problem, because CNOOC will not recognise [Manila’s sovereignty].”
Carpio, an expert on international law and veteran maritime sovereignty advocate, was involved in the legal challenge against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013.
Carpio said it was incorrect to the West Philippine Sea, which is claimed by China, as “disputed”.
Carpio said the sea was the Philippines’ territory, its EEZ and part of its continental shelf. Parts of this area falls within China’s nine-dash line that includes around 80 per cent of the South China Sea.
“The legal ownership is not disputed anymore, so we should not say that the area is disputed because the moment that you say that the area is disputed, China will say ‘You see, it’s still disputed,'” he told ANC.
“Don’t say that because the tribunal has already ruled with finality. There’s no appeal. We’re the owners of the resources there. There is no legal dispute as to the ownership of oil, fish and gas. It belongs exclusively to the Philippines. The only problem is how to get China to comply,” the judge said.
The court in the Hague in 2016 rejected Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea in a case brought after a standoff between the Chinese coast guard and a Philippine naval ship in the Scarborough Shoal.
President Rodrigo Duterte set the decision aside, however, as he distanced Manila from Washington and embraced China to seek financial and military aid.
The Philippine navy has limited resources to tackle China. Picture credit: Wikimedia