THE Philippines is set to enter into a deal with China to jointly explore oil in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday.

Speaking to reporters after his State of the Nation Address (Sona), the Chief Executive said both countries are now ready to begin the joint venture but they are yet to set the target date.

"There is no [timeline] yet but we are into it already. We are there already. We already have a partner but I don’t know who. Our emissaries, as well as theirs, are already there. They are talking and they are exploring," Duterte said.

"When they start to excavate the gas and all, I tell you, it's going to be just like a joint venture. So it will be fair," he added.

Duterte made the disclosure amid the Philippines' stance to maintain "non-adversarial” approach in resolving the maritime dispute with China.

Despite winning the Philippine petition lodged before the international court, the President has maintained to push for “soft-landing” approach to address the spat on the resource-rich South China Sea.

On July 12, 2016, the Philippines won the petition filed by the Aquino administration at the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled that China has invalid claim over the contested waters.

The possibility of entering into a joint venture with China emerged after Duterte’s special envoy for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Jose de Venecia Jr. proposed that the administration enters into a joint exploration for oil and gas deposits in the Spratly Islands, citing possible economic gains.

Duterte said that he once attempted to invoke the country's victory and intent to drill resources in the South China Sea but his counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping, had warned him of declaring a war if he pushes through with his plan.

He reiterated that the Philippines is still not ready to engage in a fight with China, which he considered as a "friend."

"I'm not prepared to go to war. I have to be frank. The truth is, I will not. It will end up a slaughter to my forces. We do not have enough resources. They have the state-of-the-art and everything,” he said.

During his address to the nation, Duterte insisted that his administration would maintain "warmer" relations with China.

"We have cultivated warmer relations with China through bilateral dialogues and other mechanisms, leading to an easing of tensions between the two countries and improved negotiating environment on the West Philippine Sea," the President said. (SunStar Philippines)