By Mario B. Casayuran
Former Senate President and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile said yesterday that launching a joint exploration with China for gas and oil beneath the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea is the better approach for the Duterte government in developing new energy sources.
Still spritely at 95, Enrile stressed that the Philippines cannot insist on its territorial rights over parts of the South China Sea because it would not be respected.
The United Nations arbitral court had issued a decision rejecting China’s historical claim over most parts of the SCS and favoring the Philippine claim over parts of the Spratly island chain and the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal.
While the Philippine or Benham Rise is the best chance of the country in boosting energy supply, it poses problems that the young generation of Filipinos has to face this century, Enrile said.
Enrile said the direction of President Duterte in proposing a joint exploration with China for hydrocarbons in the SCS “is correct.”
“We cannot insist on our rights. Yes, we have the rights but will those rights be respected by a country like China? My God, even if you put together Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and the rest, they cannot equal the firepower of China,” he said.
“The military power is not there. That is why the direction of President Duterte to do it diplomatically instead of raising the Philippine flag and say ‘this is my territory,’ the conciliatory and enter into a joint venture is the better approach,’’ he added.
China, according to Enrile, would not allow anybody to exploit the hydrocarbon reserves in the WPS because it needs these.
It is the biggest user of energy now in the world because of its burgeoning economy and is now even exploring even the Arctic Ocean for sources of energy, he said.
“Malampaya will be gone. Now, our best chance will be Benham Rise, but even that will entail a big, big amount of investment and we have to have a Navy to guard it. Otherwise, it will be taken away from us by force. Don’t kid yourself, resource control will become a bone of contention among countries in the world in the century,’’ he added.