In a few more years, the country’s only source of energy will dry up, crippling the main Luzon power grid as some generating plants rely on natural gas piped from Palawan to the southern Luzon area.

Under Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year rule, the Philippines failed to look for and develop new oil-and-gas fields in the western part of the country’s sovereign waters because China had tied down the government to a joint venture agreement that never moved forward due to legal entanglements.

The Philippines wanted local laws to be applied in the joint venture, including the proceeds from the agreement, because the oil-and-gas fields are clearly within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

The Philippines’ position was also affirmed by the 2016 ruling made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which nullified China’s excessive nine-dash-line claim which covers almost the entire South China Sea.

Under international laws, only the Philippines has the right to explore resources within the 200-nautical-mile EEZ. China, which is over extending its EEZ, has no basis to claim sovereignty over the waters in Reed Bank.

But Beijing did not recognize the arbitral ruling and continued to insist sovereignty on the South China Sea, including the areas in the Reed Bank where there could be rich deposits of oil and gas.

In short, the Philippines’ efforts to find new energy sources in the West Philippine Sea was blocked by China as negotiations for the joint venture dragged on for years since 2018 when the agreement was signed.

Under the agreement, China wanted exclusive partnership with the Philippines to explore and exploit oil-and-gas fields in the disputed territories, stopping Manila from taking any foreign partners. It also prohibited Manila from unilaterally exploring and extracting oil and gas in the area.

It was a one-sided deal. China wanted to take what is ours but would not want to share what is theirs. For instance, Chinese maritime patrol vessels have been harassing survey ships contracted by private companies that had won service contracts in the West Philippine Sea.

At the same time, Chinese survey ships have been freely exploring areas within the Philippine EEZ, a clear violation of international laws.

The onerous arrangement has to stop. It has prevented the Philippines from developing its own energy resources and allowing it to freely choose which foreign companies to partner with to explore and exploit the oil-and-gas fields.

It endangered the country’s energy security. It would take about 10 years to develop an oil-and-gas field before energy resources could be extracted. With rising fuel costs due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and limited production from the Middle East, the Philippines is very vulnerable to soaring fuel costs.

Duterte Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced the president had agreed to terminate the agreement with China because nothing came out of it and that it only prevented the country from exploring and exploiting Reed Bank.

The Philippines should have terminated the lopsided agreement with China a long time ago because it did not benefit the country.

The Philippines lacks advanced technology and money to go into the expensive energy business. It cannot develop offshore oil-and-gas fields without a foreign partner.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. should not make the mistake of reviving the lopsided deal with China for an oil-and-gas exploration in an area that is totally under the country’s sovereign rights.

He should not also worry that a war would break out if the Philippines did not agree to partner with China in oil-and-gas exploration in the South China Sea. Duterte used to scare Filipinos about the possibility of a conflict and he predicted that the Philippines would lose in a shooting war.

China will not go to war with the Philippines over a maritime dispute. China will not risk a confrontation with the United States because an attack on any public vessel in the disputed area could trigger the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

The likelihood of a war with Taiwan is bigger than China invading atolls, reefs, and half-submerged features in the Spratlys in a conflict with the Philippines.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province. Taiwan has no military alliance with the United States.

It is comforting to hear from Marcos’ security officials that they will defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.

National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) Ricardo de Leon have vowed not to give an inch of the disputed territory nor surrender sovereignty to China, which has been constantly encroaching into Philippine-held islands in the South China Sea.

Carlos also promised to refocus national security policies more on food and energy security than running after domestic security threats that should be left to the police as a peace and order problem.

Marcos has also promised to uphold the 2016 arbitral ruling, a complete departure from the Duterte administration that dismissed it as a mere piece of paper to be thrown in the wastebasket.

The West Philippines Sea holds the future of the country. It is important not only because of oil-and-gas but also fisheries, ensuring food security as well.

Duterte wasted six years. Marcos should reverse his predecessor’s China policy. It did not benefit the country, It only stymied the development of the country’s oil-and-gas resources as well as food security.