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Senator Risa Hontiveros on Sunday said she was “cautiously optimistic” about reports that President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted the oil exploration moratorium in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

But she said any joint oil exploration should only begin after China acknowledges and abides by the 2016 Permanent Arbitration Court ruling recognizing the Philippines’ exclusive sovereign rights over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the WPS.

“Hangga’t hindi kinikilala ng Tsina ang ating tagumpay sa Hague ruling, walang negotiation on joint exploration ang magiging produktibo,” Hontiveros said.

“Sa ngayon, dapat patuloy nating igiit na ang Pilipinas lamang ang maaring magsagawa ng exploration sa ating EEZ. The requirements of the Constitution should be met and our sovereign ownership over the resources in our continental shelf must be recognized. Mayaman sa oil at gas reserves ang West Philippine Sea, kaya pilit itong inaagaw,” the senator said.

“We must not easily grant China access to our seas, not only because of her rejection of the 2016 ruling but also because we need to safeguard money and resources that can get us through this pandemic. Unahin naman natin ang sariling kapakanan ng Pilipinas,” Hontiveros said.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said that the lifting was done “in good faith” with consideration to the negotiations between the Philippines and China.

But Hontiveros said that the government should maintain that the Philippines, not China, has exclusive sovereign rights over the Philippines’ EEZ.

“Any admissions and concessions made during negotiations with China would weaken our position in the WPS. We’ve already won legally and diplomatically, and if the government itself cannot stand by this victory, China will only use this against us,” she said.

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