The Philippines and China are discussing joint exploration in the South China Sea and working on ways to make it legally acceptable, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said yesterday.

“Right now we haven’t discussed and we’re not discussing development. We’re discussing exploration first,” Cayetano said in a press conference.

He cited as precedent the joint marine seismic undertaking of the Philippines, Vietnam and China which ended in July 2008. Based on that agreement, China gathered seismic data, Vietnam processed information, while the Philippines did the interpretation.

“So the stage now is in the discussion that we do. Both want it, the joint exploration,” he said.

According to Cayetano, China will form its own working group while a Philippine working group will perform its task in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the security cluster. The results, he said, will be made public.

He said the government is consulting international legal experts “so whatever we do will not only be in accordance with Constitution but also the UNCLOS.” UNCLOS stands for United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“But what I can tell you is that we are pursuing it aggressively because we need it. It will serve no one if we won’t explore and develop,” Cayetano said, noting that technical and financial support are needed for such undertaking.

Cayetano said the second meeting of the bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea on Tuesday was an important step toward attaining the goal of joint exploration.

He assured the public that the Philippines would not give up a “single inch of its territory” if a joint exploration or even joint development pushes through.

The parameters of the negotiation process, he said, should be an assurance that any agreement has to be in conformity with the Constitution.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called joint development in the South China Sea ”full of political wisdom.”

As this developed, US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson dropped anchor in Manila for a routine port call.

Malacañang said the visit was part of the US exercising freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea.

“All vessels, including aircraft carriers, are entitled to freedom of navigation in the West Philippine Sea. We hope there will be no untoward incident on the occasion of the visit of USS Carl Vinson in our region,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

Over the last several days, the Carl Vinson carrier strike group, operating within the Indo-Pacific region, has been conducting Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Destroyer USS Michael Murphy escorted the Carl Vinson.

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