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Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, however, said joint exploration with China would “not be legally possible” if Beijing would insist it had sovereignty over waters within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The West Philippine Sea is part of the South China Sea within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer EEZ.
On Thursday, Carpio, who was part of the legal team that argued the Philippines’ challenge to China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea before the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, said the Constitution reserved the use of resources within the Philippines’ EEZ exclusively for Filipinos.
“Previously, China has insisted that the Philippines should recognize Chinese sovereignty over the joint development area, which is within the Philippines’ EEZ. We don’t know if China still insists on this,” Carpio said.
What is legally possible
“If a Chinese company is just a contractor under Philippine law like Shell (Philippines Exploration B.V., which operates the Malampaya natural gas project off Palawan Island), it is legally possible,” he said.
“But if China insists it has sovereignty or sovereign rights over the development area (like Recto Bank), then it is not legally possible,” he added.
Article XII, Section 2, of the Constitution states: “The State shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”
Earlier, in a television interview, Carpio said that the Malampaya natural gas-to-power operation off Palawan operated by Shell Philippines is allowed under Philippine laws.
“What is allowed by the Constitution is, we can attract foreign companies like Shell, to drill and we will pay them in kind. But it cannot be a joint development [of] state to state because that is our sovereign territory,” he said.
In a talk with reporters on Wednesday, Cayetano cited the Malampaya project as an example of joint resource development that the government could enter into with a foreign partner in the West Philippine Sea. —WITH A REPORT FROM AFP
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