Ahead of the United Nations Permanent Arbitration Court’s July 12 ruling on the Philippine-Sino case, Senator Win Gatchalian reaffirmed his support for a multilateral approach to resolving the West Philippine Sea dispute despite the Duterte administration’s openness to direct talks with China.
“Inclusive multilateral negotiations and adherence to the rule of law remain to be the best means of promoting and defending our rights in the West Philippine Sea,” said Gatchalian, who served as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs during the 16th Congress before his election to the Senate last May.
Gatchalian expressed disagreement with the Duterte administration’s willingness to conduct joint exploration with China within the disputed waters, to the exclusion of other countries, explaining that such an approach unduly favors China to the prejudice of Philippine interests.
While he is open to enlisting foreign entities as contractors to help the Philippines with technological needs in exploring its waters, Gatchalian said that it is more beneficial to the country’s interests to subject the joint venture to an open bidding process instead of focusing on just one potential partner.
Gatchalian explained that a competitive bidding process with several interested parties would allow the government to choose the most beneficial and cost-effective agreement for the Filipino people.
“Foreign entities are welcome to help the Philippines explore the West Philippine Sea as long as they are willing to respect our exclusive rights and sovereignty in the area. Of course, any partnership agreement must be made on our terms, with proper respect for the Constitution’s provisions on natural resources and marine wealth,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian explained that there is an urgent need to develop and utilize the abundant natural energy resources found in the West Philippine Sea as the Philippines works toward building a more stable long-term energy supply.
One particular area of interest is Reed Bank, a disputed area within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone with a natural gas field which could replace the Malampaya Natural Gas Facility after its service contract expires in 2024. Currently, the Malampaya plant provides roughly 40% of Luzon’s energy needs.
“For the Philippines, the West Philippine Sea dispute is not a matter of selfish pride,” said Gatchalian. “It is a matter of necessity. Our long-term energy security will depend largely on the potent energy resources found within these waters.”