Carpio: Joint exploration deal on WPS must comply with Constitution

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said the proposed deal between the Philippines and China on the joint exploration of natural resources in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) must comply with the provisions of the Constitution.

“As long as the joint development complies with the Philippine Constitution and there is no waiver of our sovereign rights under the arbitral ruling, I have no objection,” Carpio said in a text message sent to reporters Thursday.

The senior magistrate earlier welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) that Manila will not waver in defending the country’s interests in the WPS despite strengthened ties with Beijing.

“Well, that’s the correct position. We should never give up our rights there. That can be reconciled. We can continue to trade with China while we continue to defend our sovereign rights,” Carpio said in chance interview after the President’s SONA.

“There’s no incompatibility there because we have other relations with China. We have trade. We have cultural and all other matters. But we should not do anything that will waive our rights to the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Earlier, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano made assurances that the Philippine government would ink a joint exploration deal with China that is “equal or better” than its contract in Malampaya.

The USD4.5-billion Malampaya gas-to-power project is a joint undertaking of the Philippine government and the private sector.

Cayetano also defended the government’s move to pursue talks on the matter with China.

“Ang tanong ko nga, kukuha din naman tayo ng partner, ke-Indonesian, ke-taga-Saudi, Dutch, kukuha tayo ng partner sa pag-explore. Anong mawawala that we do it with our neighbors? (My question really is if we are to get a partner, whether it’s from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, or the Dutch, we will eventually get a partner to explore. So what do we lose if we do it with our neighbors?)” he asked.

China has earlier expressed its willingness for a 60-40 possible joint exploration in the WPS, where the 60 percent would go to the Philippines while China would get the remaining 40 percent.

Cayetano has yet to give a specific timeline on a possible Philippines-China joint exploration, but added that President Rodrigo R. Duterte and President Xi Jinping had basically given a “go signal” for the drafting of a framework. PNA