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Philippines, China should sign treaty prior to joint exploration, says expert.

The Philippine government must first sign a treaty with China before entering into a joint exploration agreement in the West Philippine Sea, a maritime law expert said.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, warned that entering into a joint exploration or development in the West Philippine Sea has serious legal implications.

The Philippines will appear to be "stepping back" from the 2016 arbitral ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration if it will conduct a joint exploration with China with regards to service contract (SC) 72 or Reed Bank, which is also being claimed by Beijing.

"If we're going to go into joint development of SC 72 despite that ruling, clearly we're stepping back from the tribunal's ruling that this is entirely a Philippine area," Batongbacal told ANC's headstart Tuesday.

Reed Bank is within China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea, which the international tribunal had invalidated in its ruling on the disputed area.

If the Philippines decides to enter into a joint exploration with China in Reed Bank, Manila would have to place safeguards so it would not appear that it has surrendered what it has gained in the arbitral award.

"Then your next step requires a treaty with China and the treaty must have its own implementing law because this will be entirely different from the existing service contract system," Batongbacal said.

"Based on the experience with joint development in other parts of the world, this kind of setup is much more complicated especially if you're talking about full-blown exploration, development, production of a reserve," he added.

According to Batongbacal, such treaty should include provisions on sharing of resources and the assignment of an operating authority.

"The most important part that must be in the treaty is the fact that our going into joint development or exploration of this area should be without prejudice to the claim. It should not have any legal effects especially on the arbitration award," Batongbacal said.

The treaty would serve as the overall framework or structure of undertaking joint exploration or development as it would bind both the Philippines and China.

"Our domestic laws will never bind another state that's why we need a treaty," the maritime law expert said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that two areas, SC 57 (northern Palawan) and SC 72 (Reed Bank), are being considered for joint exploration.

SC 57 is located northwest of Palawan, which is way beyond China's nine-dash line claim and has never been claimed by Beijing.

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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Geographic Code:0PACI
Date:Mar 6, 2018
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