Re-electionist Senator Leila M. de Lima chided President Duterte for acting as China’s spokesperson anew by asking the Filipinos to honor the supposed Recto Bank (Reed Bank) exploration agreement deal with China to avoid conflict.
De Lima maintained that the only way for the Philippines to move forward with any exploration deal with China is “if they acknowledge our sovereign rights over our continental shelf and EEZ under UNCLOS,” stressing that “anything short of that is unacceptable.”
“Now that Duterte has lifted the moratorium on oil and natural gas exploration in Recto Bank, he returns as a spokesperson to China to communicate their threat if we do not push through with a joint exploration with them,” she said.
“Have we forgotten the fact that the moratorium came about when Chinese patrol boats harassed a Philippine DOE-commissioned survey ship that was exploring the area on March 2011?” she added.
In a public address last March 7, Duterte urged the Philippines to move forward on joint development of resources in Recto Bank with China, warning that the country is not prepared to get into “trouble” with its neighbor.
Notably, the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling states that the Reed Bank is part of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), where the country has exclusive sovereign rights. But China continues to dispute it.
Last November 2018, Duterte and Xi Jinping of China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on joint maritime oil and gas exploration. However, Duterte refused to release the official details of this MOU in spite of outcry from the public and the Senate.
De Lima maintained that the Philippines cannot honor an agreement without knowing if it is constitutional, much less if it serves the interests of the Filipinos.
“What areas do this agreement cover? Trust necessitates transparency,” she said.
“How many incidents have we had in the Recto Bank with Chinese vessels harassing our fishermen during the term of Duterte alone? Is threatening us with trouble supposed to force us to undertake this joint exploration?
“China has been bullying us in the West Philippine Sea. What guarantee do we have that they will treat our country with respect during a joint exploration?” she added.
The Recto Bank exploration was put on hold following an order from the late former President Benigno Aquino III in 2012 freezing all exploration activities in disputed areas.
Duterte, however, in 2020 lifted the suspension of oil exploration in the WPS, paving the way for the resumption of drilling activities in the disputed waters, including the Recto Bank. (30)