Energy Sec. Alfonso Cusi asserted the country’s ownership of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) amid the controversy over Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s his “jet ski” statement in the 2016 presidential campaign, which he called a “joke” with a little over a year left in his six-year term.
“Ang West Philippine Sea po ay atin. Ang [Department of Energy] na po mismo ang nagbibigay ng garantiya na ang ating mga assets doon ay mapagyayaman at maalagaan, para mapakinabangan nating mga Pilipino,” Cusi said in his personal Facebook fan page.
Back in October 2020, the government lifted the moratorium on oil exploration in the hotly-contested waters. There are at least ten petroleum service contracts (SC) for oil and gas explorations in the WPS. Among these are SC38 or the Malampaya gas field, SC55 of Ayala, SCs 59 and 63 of PNOC-Exploration Corporation, and SCs 72 and 75 of PXP Energy.
During the final presidential debate in 2016, the then-Davao City Mayor said that he will use a jet ski going to the WPS to assert the country’s claim over its exclusive economic zone, which even before then had multiple incursions by Chinese vessels.
Recently, however, Duterte said that his jet ski statement was just campaign bravado and was only a “joke,” emphasizing that that those who believed it were “stupid.” The pronouncement of the President, who also said once that he cannot retake the Chinese-claimed territories, not only dismayed critics, but also the fisherfolk who asked the question during the debate.
“When the president said it was merely bravado that made him say that he will [use a jet ski] to Scarborough, he meant that it was his attempt to dispel the tension and seemingly growing fear of the fisherfolk who were being affected at that time,” said Cusi, who is also the vice chairman of Duterte’s party PDP-Laban.
“Shallow people are making such a big fuss out of this jet ski statement. Obviously, people are missing his point – he intended to say that we should not be fearful in the face of alleged threats. It is really a matter of perspective. And to take him literally is what he may have been referring to as ‘stupid,’ sapagkat sino nga naman ang mangangahas na mag-jetski sa napakalawak at napakalalim na karagatan,” he emphasized.
The secretary went on further to say that Duterte’s “friendly stance” with China turned out to be the better and more effective option, as it has provided the country with “generous” grants and millions of vaccines against COVID-19 for free.