By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Nancy Binay on Thursday urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to disclose details of the government’s transactions with China whom they permitted to conduct scientific research in the Benham Rise, officially known as the Philippine Rise.
Binay said the DFA should provide the Senate a list of all foreign, Filipino-led studies and oceanic explorations on the resource-rich, 13 million-hectare underwater plateau located on the country’s eastern seaboard.
“In the interest of transparency, it would be best for the DFA to share to the public the extent of the study, research and exploration of China in Benham Rise,” Binay said in a statement.
“And since it is the DFA which approves or disapproves scientific researches in both the West and East Philippine Seas, it is only appropriate if they could provide a list of all Filipino- and foreign-led expeditions in our waters since 2010,” she stressed.
The senator stressed there is nothing wrong if Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano discloses details of the marine research.
“It’s best to know the extent of aid the government of China is willing to provide for this research. If it does not undermine the country’s sovereignty, then I don’t see anything wrong why the DFA cannot provide us with the details of the agreement between the Philippines and China,” she pointed out.
The DFA has said it has granted marine scientific research permits to Japan, US, China, Korea and Germany since 2000.
Binay said details like the location, number of vessels, offshore platforms, area and period of coverage, and members of the technical team are important references since it is also the job of the Senate to review Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA) entered into by the Philippine government.
The DFA approved the request of the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) for a marine scientific research (MSR) in Philippine Rise to be done jointly with the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) in the exploration.
She said that while nothing legally hinders joint explorations, it has always been an issue of policy for years whether or not government should allow foreign corporate interests or foreign governments to join the Philippines in exploring for resources.
The lawmaker said the marine research on Philippine Rise could be viewed in relation to the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) tripartite agreement of the Philippines with China and Vietnam, which provided for seismic surveys to determine whether oil and gas reserves are under the Spratlys off the West Philippine Sea.
“For now, we need to be cautious and sparing in giving approval for joint explorations. We must first bear in mind the interest of the Filipino people,” she said.
“The MSR might have a different agenda. Our foreign partners should first acknowledge and recognize our territorial integrity and sovereignty over our waters—and that’s non-negotiable,” Binay stressed.
Earlier, senators Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV urged the Senate committee on foreign relations to jumpstart a hearing into a number of transactions the Duterte government entered with China.
Aquino said the hearing would also provide President Duterte’s Cabinet members a venue where they can also disclose the foreign policy direction of the administration.