By Virgilio Robles
A showdown with Beijing looms after the Philippines government Thursday re-affirmed its intention to allow oil exploration in a disputed area of the South China Sea.
The Department of Energy announced on Monday it has invited foreign investors to take part in the search for oil around Reed Bank in the Spratly Islands, which China says is part of its territory.
The announcement drew an angry response from China on Tuesday who said it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands and its adjacent waters.
“It is unlawful for any country or company to explore for oil and gas in sea areas under Chinese jurisdiction without the permission of the Chinese government,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei was quotes as saying by the Xinhua news agency.
This prompted Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin today to say that the Reed Bank is well within Philippines territory.
Responding to the Chinese foreign ministry statement he said: “The oil exploration will be within our territorial waters. Why should we ask permission from anybody? If that’s ours, it’s ours.”
The defense chief also said he does not foresee any tension as a result of the oil exploration and that there is no need to step up maritime patrols.
“We will continue to maintain our patrols in the area,” he said.
A confrontation last year between two Chinese patrol vessels and a survey ship, the MV Veritas Voyager, which was forced to withdraw, has prompted President Benigno Aquino to take a harder line with China in the South China Sea.
It has also prompted Manila to beef up its military presence in the area.