Duterte cues PH-China talks

President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet seeks light as its members pray for guidance before a meeting yesterday at the Aguinaldo Room of the Malacañang Palace.           MALACAÑANG PHOTO

Discussions on oil and gas and other positive matters convinced President Rodrigo Duterte to give the green light to the creation of a high-level working group for the planned joint exploration with China in the disputed part of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

This was revealed yesterday by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano following the approval by the Chief Executive of the formation of a Cabinet level group to craft and finalize a framework for a possible sea pact with China.

Among the agencies that will be involved are the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Energy, Justice, Environment and Natural Resources, Interior and Local Governments, the National Security Council-National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the Office of the Solicitor General.

“Our discussions on oil and gas are progressing quite well. Last night I asked the President if I can form the working group and he approved it,” Cayetano said.

The high-level working group, Cayetano said, is tasked to come up with a framework on how to go about the planned joint exploration project with China.

The foreign affairs chief stressed that the planned joint exploration would only cover areas in the disputed portion of the WPS.

On the other hand, Cayetano said Beijing will also form its own working group to meet with its Philippine counterpart to formally discuss their respective frameworks.

Cayetano, at the same time, stressed that while the Duterte administration is not announcing publicly its efforts in dealing with China on the WPS dispute, it has been observing the arbitral award issued by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.

“Are we implementing it? They (Aquino administration) only filed it, us we are doing it, implementing it,” Cayetano said.

“Everything the arbitration award says we’re pursuing – we’re talking with China,” he added.

Cayetano also challenged Aquino to offer an alternative if he does not like the Duterte approach in addressing the problems it inherited from the former President.

“I am not saying that ours is perfect but I am asking President Aquino and the others: ‘What’s your alternative? So, in oil and gas, if you don’t like that as good as Malampaya and you don’t want to deal with China, what’s your alternative?’” he asked.

In Malampaya, the government is taking a 60-40 share deal with the private contractors of the gas exploration.

Cayetano also dared Aquino to a one-on-one debate on the issue.

“I am ready anytime, at any place, if he likes a one-on-one debate. Or if he’d like to bring Secretary (Albert) Del Rosario or Sen. Antonio Trillanes. It should not even be a debate, it should be a healthy discussion about the correct policy and on building relationship with our neighbors and how to handle the South China Sea issue professionally in accordance with our interest and with our territorial and sovereign rights,” Cayetano said.

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