President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted the moratorium on oil and gas explorations in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), amidst the dispute with China over the country’s sovereignty in the area.

The Department of Energy (DOE) said that both local and foreign investors and consortiums will benefit from the lifting of the suspension.

National media reports confirmed Friday that the president has lifted the six-year-long moratorium on oil and gas exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea. The moratorium has prevented investors and consortiums already cleared by the Department of Energy (DOE) from proceeding with their exploration and drilling plans.

DOE Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi told media outlets that local and foreign investors and oil consortiums, particularly the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the Udenna Energy Corporation owned by Davao businessman Dennis Uy, will benefit from the lifting of the moratorium.

“We need to explore, so we may address the country’s energy security,” he was quoted as saying.

Other companies who have a stake in the WPS are PXP Energy, owned by Filipino businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, and the state-run Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC). Cusi added that the lifting of the moratorium was partially considering the near-depletion and contract expiration of the Malampaya gas reserve, also based in Palawan.

“With the impending depletion of our natural gas reserves in Malampaya, it is the department’s position that there is an urgent imperative to resume exploration, development and production activities within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) to ensure continuity of supply of indigenous resources in the country,” he added.

The moratorium for the WPS was first issued by then-president Benigno Aquino III in 2014 after Chinese vessels were seen doing illegal patrols in the Recto Bank, found near the Kalayaan group of islands.

Several areas of the island group continue to be the topic of the ongoing territorial disputes with China, despite a ruling by an international court in 2016 granting the Philippines victory over the said disputes. The Recto Bank has long been eyed for its rich oil deposit that could supposedly match the Malampaya field in terms of commercial production.