Manila: Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Monday complained about China’s deployment of two vessels in the South China Sea.

“What are these ships doing there? What studies are they conducting? I hope this will not lead to increased tension [in the South China Sea],” Aquino said on TV.

“Whenever we deal with China, it has seasonal (responses). There’s a season when China’s belligerent. There’s a season when it’s friendly. There’s a time when it goes on a charm offensive. There’s a time when it does not (do that),” Aquino complained.

He did not mention the date of the incursions of the two Chinese vessels near Recto Bank.

However, an official from his communications said they were near the Recto bank.

“The president has complained about the presence of the Chinese hydrographic research vessels near Recto Bank (also known as Reed Bank), in the South China Sea, which is 144-kilometre away from Palawan in southwestern Philippines,” said an aide to Herminio Coloma, Secretary of Presidential Communications Operations Office, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The move was being seen as part of efforts by Beijing to stop a Philippine firm that has failed to include a private Chinese company in an oil drilling project, which was to start four years ago, sources told Gulf News.

In July, a Chinese vessel chased away a drilling vessel of Forum Energy Plc, a London-listed company, at Recto Bank, the military said. A similar incident happened in 2011.

Recto Bank is a submerged bank or a continental margin of Palawan. It is located within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone granted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to countries starting from their shores.

In 2010, the Philippines’ energy department granted Forum Energy a franchise, identified as service contract 72, to explore for seven years 880,000 hectares within the Recto Bank basin, including Sampaguita gasfield, whose potential was discovered in 1976.

The exploration period was extended by three more years, until 2016. The contract included a 25-year production period, which can be extended by 15 more years.

Recto Bank has potential reserves of 3.4-trillion cubic feet of gas and 440 million barrels of oil, bigger than the finds at Malampaya gasfield, also located off Palawan. Sampaguita, on the other hand, has a potential of up to 566 billion cubic metres of natural gas, experts said.

Forum Energy is 64.5 per cent controlled by Filipino national, Manuel Pangilinan of Philex Mining; 30 per cent by Filipino-Spanish businessman Enrique Razon Jr of Monte de Oro Resources and Energy Inc.

In January 2013, Pangilinan wanted China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOCC) to become a partner in Energy Forum.

At the time, China’s foreign ministry also said that the project must be approved by Beijing.

In 2005, President Gloria Arroyo stopped the implementation of the Joint Maritime Seismic Understanding (JMSU) that was signed in 2005 by CNOOC, Petron Corp. of the Philippines and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corp. (PetroVietnam), to explore for three years oil in the offshore areas claimed by the three countries in the South China Sea.

The Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional because it did not comply with the Philippines’ 40-percent cap on foreign shares of joint explorations of natural resources of the Philippines.