The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday expressed its readiness to provide security to any group that will conduct deepwater oil exploration in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) as long as the activity is done within the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Lt. Col.Noel Detoyato, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office, issued the statement in reaction to disclosure by the party-list Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers' Association (LPG-MA) that an Australian-Filipino consortium is set to drill a new exploratory well in the disputed waterways in the hope to unlock a commercially viable oil reservoir.
According to Rep. Arnel Ty of LPG-MA, also House deputy minority leader, the private consortium that runs petroleum Service Contract 55 will spud the Hawkeye exploratory well on August 1, immediately after the July 31 arrival on the site of the super deepwater drillship Maersk Venturer.
Detoyato said the Philippine Navy will secure the exploration if it is conducted in areas on the border of the EEZ.
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"So, it is incumbent for us that since we are part of the exploration, we have to protect. As long as [it is done] within Philippine waters, the Philippine Navy [will secure it]. We also have the Philippine Coast Guard [to help us]," he added.
While the military is not expecting aggression or harassment from the Chinese Navy, Detoyato said, the AFP is ready and prepared.
He would not disclose what Navy unit or ship was to be deployed, except that the unit or the ship is equipped to ward off any harassment.
In a statement release on Sunday, Ty said the drilling underscores the strategic economic value of the West Philippine Sea, the site of most of the country's productive offshore oil and gas fields.
It is believed that the sea holds hydrocarbons that, once harnessed, could enable the Philippines to become self-sufficient in its future energy needs.
"Fortunately, SC [Service Contract] 55 is not situated in contested territory in the West Philippine Sea," Sy noted.
Last March, the Department of Energy (DOE) granted a force majeure on a separate petroleum exploration concession in the West Philippine Sea-SC 72-because it falls within the disputed area that is now the subject of a United Nations arbitration process between the Philippines and China.
Forum Energy, the operator of SC 72, had no choice but suspend all exploration work over its contract area "until further notice from the DOE."
SC 72 covers the gasrich Recto (Reed) Bank, a disputed area that is farther northwest off Palawan compared to SC 55.
The SC 55 consortium is spending $24.5 million (P1.1 billion) to drill the Hawkeye well.
The group is composed of Australia's Otto Energy Investments Ltd. (operator, with 78.18 percent interest), Red Emperor Resources NL (15 percent) and Palawan 55 Exploration and Production Corp. (6.82 percent).
Malacanang on Sunday hailed what it described as growing international support for its efforts to counter China's claims to most of the South China Sea.
The comments from Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. came as the US Pacific Fleet released photographs of its commander in a surveillance flight over the sea, where tension is rising between Manila and Beijing.