Palace hopes accord on oil exploration ready prior Xi’s PH trip

MANILA— While there is no specific timeline set for a final draft bilateral agreement on the joint exploration in the disputed West Philippine Sea, Malacañang is hopeful the document will be ready before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Manila.

“No time frame, but of course with the impending visit of President Xi, I would say that it is anytime between now and the visit of President Xi, but it was not expressly stated as such,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.

The Palace official said Xi is slated to visit the country after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November.

Roque said the administration is now “moving towards a bilateral agreement that would enable the joint exploration to happen.”

Roque reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte is keen on pursuing the cooperation with Beijing as the two nations find ways to settle overlapping territorial claims in the area.

“The President has repeatedly said that he’s open to joint exploration, number one because the Supreme Court says it is constitutional in La Bugal, and number two because it is pursuant to national interest,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said the chief executive already approved the establishment of a technical working group (TWG) for the Philippine-China joint exploration.

The TWG, composed of various government agencies, will also have a legal team focused on giving advice and assistance once negotiations start.

The legal team will focus on three components–the oil and gas, Constitutional law, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Joyce Ann Rocamora/