2017 M05 23 17:00 GMT-5
Rodrigo Duterte with Xi Jinping in Beijing on May 15. Photographer: AFP via Getty Images
One of the most prominent tycoons in the Philippines is increasingly optimistic that President Rodrigo Duterte can strike a deal with China to share oil and gas deposits in a disputed part of the South China Sea.
“At some point a commercial deal will be made that will enable us to develop the prospect,” Roberto Ongpin, whose company Atok-Big Wedge Co. Inc.
holds a minority stake in a gas field in the South China Sea, said in an interview on Thursday. “It will be astronomical.”
Since taking power last year, Duterte has sought to improve ties with China that deteriorated under predecessor Benigno Aquino. The two countries agreed to work out “mutually acceptable approaches” to the South China Sea at formal talks that began last week, an early step toward reaching a deal to exploit what may be the Philippines’s largest gas field.
Ongpin has a history with Duterte: He was forced to sell his Philippine gaming assets after the president targeted
in a crackdown on online gaming. Still, Ongpin said he believes the Philippine leader’s approach toward the world’s secondbiggest economy is moving in right direction.
“There’s no way you can bump heads with China,” he said by phone.
Ongpin said his company now owns 20 percent of Forum Energy Ltd., which has a 70 percent stake in the Sampaguita gas field west of the Philippines’ Palawan province. The discovery is estimated to contain 11.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to a third-party assessment commissioned by PXP Energy Corp. PXP owns 80 percent of Forum.
That’s more than four times the 2.7 trillion cubic feet of reserves in Malampaya gas field, the largest in the Philippines, which currently fuels several power plants and generated hundreds of billions of pesos worth of royalties for the government. Supply from the Malampaya gas field will last only until 2024, prompting the Energy Department to consider importing liquefied natural gas to ensure stable supplies.
In dealings with President Xi Jinping, Duterte has set aside an international court ruling