Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday said working with China for joint exploration of undiscovered resources in the disputed South China Sea would not be so bad for the Philippines.
"At the very least, joint exploration, let's find out what's there. Then if we find out na wala, then bakit tayo nag-aaway?" the foreign minister said in a live interview on State of the Nation with Jessica Soho.
"If we find out that there's more (than) enough, then the deal is... as good or better than Malampaya. (If) they offer us a bad deal, we say no," he added.
Cayetano emphasized that the Philippine government's efforts to foster a "growing" relationship with China does not necessarily mean President Rodrigo Duterte is defending the superpower's actions in the disputed territory.
"We are telling everyone all our neighbors — claimants, non-claimants — 'Do not militarize the South China Sea'," he said.
In reaching out to China, Cayetano said the Philippines cannot rule out the depletion of its Malampaya gas reserves, which the Department of Energy (DOE) estimated would run out between 2024 and 2027.
"But if we work it out with China and we get billions of dollars worth of oil there, and the deal is better or as good as Malampaya, is that good or bad for the country? I think it's good. I'd rather have two or three Malampayas rather than one na nagru-run out na," he said.
Earlier this month, Malacañang on Monday maintained that a possible joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea is constitutional, disputing the claim of Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque had pointed out that the Philippines would not be the first country with claims in the region to enter a joint exploration and development agreement, citing pacts made by Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Duterte government had been criticized for having a "too-soft" stance on China amid reports of Beijing's reclamation work on seven reefs claimed by Manila, as well as China's naming of five underwater features within the Philippine Rise or Benham Rise.
The agency, in January, also granted the request of a Chinese entity to conduct research in waters off eastern Luzon where the Benham Rise is located. — JST/BAP, GMA News