[PHOTO - Boats on a beach in Puerto Princesa on the western Philippine island of Palawan in February 2011. The Philippines plans to auction off areas of the South China Sea for oil exploration, despite worsening territorial disputes with China over the area, an official said Tuesday.]

MANILA, JULY 18, 2012 (STANDARD) By Joyce Pangco Pañares - 3 blocs off Palawan up for exploration!

The Aquino administration will not be cowed into stopping oil exploration deals in the West Philippine Sea just because of a recent warning from Beijing, deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.

She said the government would continue offering new exploration contracts, including those for three blocs off the coast of Palawan, because those areas belonged to the Philippines.

“Since the 1970s, we have been offering exploration contracts, so we will continue to do so,” Valte said.

Energy Undersecretary James Layug earlier announced that the government would offer the contracts on July 31.

Layug said the blocs were believed to be most promising for oil and gas deposits.

“All reserves in that area belong to the Philippines,” he said.

The three blocs are in an area known as the northwest Palawan basin and just beside the Philippines’ existing gas fields, but China is claiming the same area.

Another area in the West Philippine Sea, the potentially oil-rich Recto Bank, is also being eyed for development by the Philippines, but China is similarly claiming it. Last year, the Philippines accused China of harassing an oil-exploration ship in the area.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lie Weimin said any exploration “in waters under China’s jurisdiction” was illegal.

But Valte brushed aside Beijing’s recent warning, saying all the contracts being offered by the Philippine government were “legal.”

Liu said China had repeatedly lodged protests with the Philippines for bidding out oil exploration contracts. He said such actions violated China’s interests.

The Philippines on Friday said it “deplores the non-issuance of a joint communique after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations failed to agree on key issues—including those involving China—at the close of the group’s 45th Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario blamed Cambodia for “consistently opposing any mention of Scarborough Shoal at all” and for announcing that a joint communique “cannot be issued.”

The Philippines and China are still negotiating to end a tense dispute over the shoal, about 700 kilometers away, which has been continuing for more than three months. The Philippines has withdrawn its ships from the shoal to ease tensions, but Chinese government surveillance ships have remained in the area.

Cambodia, a staunch ally of China, which had earlier warned the Asean countries not to mention anything about the contentious issue on the South China Sea during the security meetings in Phnom Penh. The warning was a rebuff of a US recommendation urging Asean members to formulate a legally binding Code of Conduct.

Analysts said Cambodia might have played Beijing’s hand in refusing to agree on the Philippines and Vietnam’s demand to include the standoff at the Scarborough Shoal in the final draft of the joint communique.


Philippines to bid out three South China Sea blocs

[PHOTO -China and South-east Asian countries struggled to make progress on July 11 on a code of conduct designed to ease tension in the flashpoint South China Sea, diplomatic sources said. -- PHOTO: AFP]

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines will bid out oil exploration contracts in the South China Sea despite recent tensions with China over conflicting territorial claims in those waters, an official said on Wednesday.

The three blocs in the South China Sea, off the coast of the western Philippine island of Palawan, are believed to be the most promising for oil and gas deposits, said Energy Undersecretary James Layug.

'All reserves in that area belong to the Philippines. We will only offer areas within our exclusive economic zone,' he said at the sidelines of an energy forum in Manila.

The area, known as the northwest Palawan basin, is just beside the Philippines' existing natural gas fields, which already provide 40 per cent of the electrical power of the main Philippine island of Luzon, said Mr Layug.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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