DFA Chief: PH-China joint exploration in S. China Sea possible in 2019

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 2) — Joint exploration between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea may take place as early as 2019 should there be no legal obstacles, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said Thursday.

"If there are no legal obstacles and we find the right formula, and of course depende 'yan sa kung anong makita doon [that depends on what's there]," Cayetano said before his trip to South Korea, as part of the Cabinet delegation during President Rodrigo Duterte's official visit.

Cayetano said the country's direction in pursuit of joint development is through Philippine and Chinese companies already working on areas in the South China Sea.

"Sa oil and gas, what's happening we're looking at what they want compared to what we want, and then paano magkakaroon ng framework na hindi maapektuhan ang sovereign rights and territorial rights," he said.

[Translation: In oil and gas, what's happening we're looking at what they want compared to what we want, and then how to have a framework that won't affect sovereign rights and territorial rights.]

In March, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines is already looking at two areas in the South China Sea for the joint exploration, covered by service contracts (SCs) between Chinese and Filipino firms.

"In joint development, may models na ganoon, ang question: 'yung wording. Papayag ba sila o papayag tayo? So far ang direction namin is gamitin ang Filipino and Chinese companies na dapat naman gagawa niyan even bago nangyari ito," Cayetano explained.

[Translation: In joint development, there are models like that. The question is who will agree to the terms. Our direction, so far, is to use the established Chinese and Filipino firms in the area.]

However, critics saw this move to jointly explore South China Sea amid disagreements as giving up the country's sovereign rights.

China has been in a maritime row with the Philippines over parts of disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Although the government has proposed joint exploration with China in the South China Sea, Roque previously said there will be no co-ownership since the Philippines will "definitely not" recognize China's claimed sovereignty.

Roque said Manila and Beijing should work together, as the Philippines is the country coordinator in the Code of Conduct negotiations on the South China Sea between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Triciah Terada contributed to this report.