Filipino businessman sees more delays in gas deal

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 24, 2013 13:15 hrs

A Filipino businessman said Thursday that the Philippines' elevation of its territorial dispute with China to international arbitration further complicates his company's already delayed bid to explore for oil and gas at the Reed Bank in the South China Sea.

The issue is no longer just commercial or a question of sovereignty but has become a global one, said Manuel Pangilinan. He is head of Philex Petroleum Corp., majority owner of London-based Forum Energy PLC, the contractor for oil and gas exploration off the Philippines' western Palawan Island.

Pangilinan said it was difficult to say when his group can proceed with the exploration since arbitration can last years.

The Philippines on Tuesday formally notified Beijing it is seeking arbitration before a tribunal operating under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. It wants China's claims to virtually the entire South China Sea declared unlawful.

"We just have to wait to see how things will turn out and get our directive from the government," Pangilinan told reporters.

John D. Negroponte, a former U.S. national intelligence director and deputy secretary of state, welcomed the Philippines action.

"The main message I take from the Philippine government action is that it seeks to resolve this issue by peaceful means and that is very consistent with the line that the United states government has been advocating all these years," Negroponte said. He is visiting Manila as Pangilinan's co-chairman in the US-Philippines Society that seeks to raise the Philippines' profile in the United States and encourage investment.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Tuesday his department summoned Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing and handed her a note saying that the Philippines is seeking international arbitration.

Six governments have overlapping claims across the vast South China Sea, with China claiming it has sovereignty over virtually all of it. Chinese paramilitary ships confronted Philippine vessels last year in a monthslong standoff over a shoal that both countries claim.