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Locsin: Philippines-China talks on oil, gas exploration terminated

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the Philippines' joint oil exploration discussions with China, outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Thursday.

According to JP Soriano’s report on “24 Oras”, Locsin said the Philippines abandoned the agreement due to Constitutional constraints and issues on the country’s sovereignty.

“The President has spoken. I carried out his instructions to the letter. Oil and gas discussions are terminated completely. Nothing is spending. Everything is over,” Locsin said at the 124th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“Three years on and we have not achieved our objective — developing oil and gas resources so critical for the Philippines but not at the price of sovereignty. Not even a particle of it,” he added.

It is believed several areas of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) — part of the country’s exclusive economic zone — are rich with oil and gas reserves.

But because of China’s massive claim over the South China Sea, the Philippines’ planned research and development in the disputed waters never materialized.

“I tried for three years to come to an agreement, to facilitate exploration for, and exploitation of oil and gas in the WPS. We got as far as it is Constitutionally possible to go," Locsin said.

"One step forward from where we stood, on the edge of the abyss, is a drop into Constitutional crisis. That explains the sudden pullback of my part which unraveled three years of sincere hardwork on the part of Wang Yi and me,” he added.

In November 2018, the Philippines and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) wherein both governments agreed to establish an intergovernmental joint steering committee to look into possible energy cooperation.

The MOU also provides that each working group from the two countries "will consist of representatives from enterprises authorized by the two governments."

With his term ending soon, Locsin said it was now in the hands of the administration of incoming President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to defend the Philippine sovereignty.

“It remains with the new administration to protect our sovereignty all the way to the while but now I can rest. The irreducible template of what is Constitutionally possible is there in black-and-white. Surrender of any portion of Philippine sovereignty is not an option. Not for love. Not for money,” Locsin said.

“I drew a blood-red line in the WPS. You, here, in the audience met me more than halfway to hold that line. Firing diplomatic protests to intruders in our waters, not missing a single transgression,” he added.

The Philippines has lodged over 300 diplomatic protests against China over its continued incursion within the country’s sovereignty.

This is despite the 2016 arbitral ruling upholding Manila’s exclusive economic zone in the WPS and invalidating Beijing’s expansive nine-dash claim. The latter repeatedly rejected it as “null and void”.

Marcos Jr. has yet to announce who will head the DFA under his administration. —Sundy Locus/NB, GMA News