CHIEF Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo clarified Wednesday that the Philippines' sovereignty will not be conceded if it enters into a possible deal to jointly explore the oil and mineral resources in the disputed Spratlys with China and Vietnam.
Speaking to reporters, Panelo said the Duterte administration has to explore all avenues that will benefit the country and resolve its disputes with other South China Sea claimants, including the two countries.
"I don't think there's a waiver of sovereignty rights on joint exploration," Panelo said.
"[We can do that] if needed. It depends because our policy will always be: Is it beneficial to the interest of the country or not? And is it also beneficial to other country to enter into whatever agreement that they would? It depends. We have to explore all possibilities that will help both countries solve [their] differences," he added.
Panelo's statement came after Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Tuesday cast doubt on the suggestion that the Philippines enter a joint agreement with China in Vietnam for oil and mineral deposits in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Philippines' special envoy for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Jose de Venecia Jr. proposed a joint exploration in the contested Spratly archipelago during the Belt and Road Forum in China on Sunday.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who mends ties with China, said Tuesday that he will carefully study the proposal and is open to possible joint exploration if it will bring progress in the country.
Carpio, however, said joint deal with the two countries only indicates that the government is conceding the Philippines' sovereign rights over the disputed waters.
"The most important element with having a joint development with China at the South China Sea is one, you must concede sovereignty to China," he said.
Panelo, however, cited that the law provides that Duterte can forge an international deal, including the possible joint exploration in the South China Sea.
"Under Article 12, Section 2 of the Constitution, one paragraph says that the President can enter into international agreements with foreign corporations for the exploration, development, utilization of mineral resources, oil, as provided by the law," he said. (SunStar Philippines)