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Losing end

The Department of Energy ordered the suspension of oil exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea on April 6, a month after President Rodrigo Duterte in a public address said the country had no choice but to abide by a supposed joint exploration deal with Beijing to avoid conflict and that someone “from China” had reminded him of this upon learning of other companies’ planned activities in the area.

For maritime expert Jay Batongbacal, also the director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, “It’s a signal that China is seriously out to prevent any petroleum exploration and development by the Philippines within its own waters.”

“It’s a game of chicken and we’re losing,” Batongbacal noted.

The DOE order effectively stopped “all exploration activities” for Service Contracts 72 and 73 – two sites off Palawan province earlier identified by the government as possible areas for joint energy exploration with Beijing – pending a go-signal from the Security, Justice and Peace Coordinating Cluster which cited “the political, diplomatic and national security implications of any activity in the West Philippine Sea.”

“It again demonstrates Duterte’s submission to China’s demands, and that previous statements against China’s actions were only for show,” Batongbacal said.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, a West Philippine Sea expert, said Mr. Duterte was only allowing himself “to be bullied by China.”

“Malaysia completed its drilling and Indonesia also completed its survey despite threats from China,” Carpio added.

Without new indigenous sources of petroleum, the Philippines will have to rely on imported liquefied natural gas to sustain power plants currently being supplied by the depleting Malampaya gas field. A country that gives up the search for its own energy sources to please the neighborhood bully might avoid further conflict and bullying but will be denying its people access to a potentially vast resource within our own territory that was already ripe for exploration and development.

Our country needs leaders who are willing to stand up for our interests, no matter how scary the bully they are facing maybe. Let’s take the opportunity presented by the upcoming elections to get our country a better set of leaders.*

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