President Rodrigo Duterte made the right move when he ordered the termination of the talks with China for a joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea. The talks began after Manila signed in November 2018 a memorandum of understanding with Beijing to cooperate with each other for energy development while setting aside the territorial dispute.

Outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said President Duterte ordered an end to the talks due to constitutional constraints and concerns about Philippine sovereignty. “Three years on and we had not achieved our objective of developing oil and gas resources so critical for the Philippines—but not at the price of sovereignty; not even a particle of it,” Locsin said in his speech during the 124th anniversary of the Department of Foreign Affairs on June 23, 2022.

The DFA chief’s statement confirmed that China and the Philippines have reached a deadlock, said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

Batongbacal told Agence France Presse that equity sharing must favor the Philippines, and the country has “constitutional restrictions of development of offshore petroleum resources. The most important one is that any development of petroleum resources should be under the complete supervision and control of the state because it is our resources.” These conditions that favor the Philippines possibly derailed the talks with China.

On the other hand, despite the signing of the memorandum of understanding, the incursions of China’s coast guard, navy and maritime militia vessels into the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone, not to mention the harassment received by Filipino navy personnel and fishermen, have continued. Just last week, China’s coast guard vessels shadowed and again tried to prevent the Philippine military from sending supplies to troops at Ayungin Shoal, which is within the West Philippine Sea—the government’s term for parts of South China Sea recognized by the 2016 Hague ruling as not part of Chinese territory.

China has been trying to displace the United States as a global superpower. The country’s leadership cannot deny it; however, the East Asian behemoth cannot spread goodwill to its neighboring countries if it neglects international laws and bullies smaller countries.

Peace in Asia is achieved if countries respect one another and the international laws.

Locsin, in his speech, urged the administration of incoming President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to “protect our sovereignty all the way to the wire. ... The irreducible template of what is constitutionally possible is there in black and white. Surrender of any portion of Philippine sovereignty is not an option. Not for love; not for money.”

Well said, Secretary Locsin.

It’s time for the country to find other ways in exploring the West Philippine Sea.