Joint venture with China ‘that will pass our sovereignty test’ needed by 2024 – Senate President

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By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent

With the Malampaya field off Palawan projected to run out of the natural gas by 2024, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the country’s top diplomat should find “a win-win arrangement” that will allow Manila and Beijing to jointly explore for oil in the West Philippine Sea.

He warned Luzon is facing a dark future if a replacement for it is not found. Malampaya powers 45 percent of the electricity grid in the said region.

Piped in from an offshore platform, Malampaya gas fuels three base load power plants in Batangas with a capacity of 2,700 megawatts (MW). The plants provide 40 to 50 percent of the energy needs of “the 57 million people living in the world’s 4th most populous island.”

Due to this looming possibility, he underscored the urgency to search for ways to secure an alternative for the future.

“While energy officials and the gas field’s driller have assured that a combination of measures will stretch Malampaya’s life to 2029, it has been conceded that output will drop in 2024,” Recto said.

He said this specter of energy starvation is what should drive the renewed hunt for new gas and oil fields within the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Recto described as “of the highest importance” the mission of Foreign Affairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano to re-allow West Philippine Sea oil prospecting through “a modus vivendi with China that will however pass our sovereignty test.”

Earlier, Cayetano said a planned joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea would comply with the Constitution’s requirements for foreign ownership and with other Philippine laws.

“Any agreement will not give up a single inch of our territorial integrity,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of ASEAN Mayors in Taguig City.

Cayetano met visiting Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, who also called on President Duterte in Malacanang.

Duterte announced that a partner was selected to explore and exploit oil fields in the West Philippine Sea.

He was probably referring to the suspended drilling activities by an Anglo-Filipino consortium at the Reed Bank.

The company halted prospecting after a Chinese ship harassed a survey ship during the Aquino administration, one of the events that prompted the Philippines to bring Beijing to an international court, which Manila won.

During his Manila visit, Wang Yi said China is open to the idea of a joint venture with the Philippines.

Recto said constricting the Philippines’ access to the West Philippine Sea will choke the country’s “fuel and fish” supply.

“We get a big chunk of our protein and power from that area,” he said.

A House of Representatives think-tank estimated that 20-25 percent of all the country’s annual fish catch comes from the waters west of Palawan and Luzon’s western seaboard, two areas now within the Chinese nine-dash line map.

“If it’s fenced off, we have no fish to fry and no electricity to fry that fish. It is a blow to our stomach,” Recto said.

Recto said the three Malampaya-dependent plants can run on imported fuel after 2024 but that would be more expensive for consumers.

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