By Genalyn D. Kabiling
Insisting the Philippine Rise is ours, President Duterte is putting a stop to the marine research and other exploration activities by foreign groups in the area.
The President has decided that only Filipinos would be allowed to explore the Philippine Rise, previously known as Benham Rise, and directed military’s air and naval assets to chase away any foreign vessels in the area.
The President’s latest directives were issued during a Cabinet meeting in Malacañang last Monday, according to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.
“President Rody Duterte last night ordered the cessation of all marine explorations and studies by foreign scientists and directed the Philippine Navy to ‘chase out’ any vessel fishing or conducting researches in the 13-million hectare continental shelf east of Luzon formerly called the Benham Rise,” Piñol said in a Facebook post.
The President has asserted the country’s ownership of Benham Rise during the Cabinet meeting, according to Piñol.
“Let me be very clear about this: The Philippine Rise is ours and any insinuation that it is open to everybody should end with this declaration,” Piñol said, quoting the President.
“Henceforth, only Filipino scientists will be allowed to conduct researches and exploration in the Philippine Rise,” Duterte added.
The Department of National Defense (DND) has also been ordered “to deploy Navy vessels and the Philippine Air Force to conduct fly-overs in the area to check on the presence of foreign vessels,” Piñol said.
He said unmanned aerial vehicles would also be dispatched from military bases east of Luzon to monitor the expanse of the Philippine Rise.
Piñol said the Department of Agriculture (DA) would also send two vessels – BRP Lapu-Lapu and BRP Francisco Dagohoy – to monitor the presence of foreign vessels in Benham Rise. The DA issues Gratuitous Permits for Foreign Marine Explorations through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
He explained the Philippine Rise belongs to the country, saying it is a 25-million hectare continental shelf that extends from the eastern shores of Luzon towards the Pacific Ocean.
The government earlier approved application of China to conduct research in the resource-rich Philippine Rise. Some groups however voiced concern in allowing China to explore the area given the unresolved territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
The government has assured that it was not giving special treatment to China, saying applications of research firms from United States, Japan and South Korea were also approved.
No research ban
Any foreign entity could still lodge a new application for marine research in the Philippine Rise but must now must get the approval of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Malacañang said.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made clear there was no ban on future foreign exploration in the Philippine Rise, adding that President Duterte revoked only the existing foreign permits in the area to give priority to Filipino researchers.
“It’s not really a ban. I guess it’s just a directive that we want Filipinos to do it as much as possible, that we are reserving it for Filipinos,” he added.
“I confirm that the President ordered that henceforth, only Filipinos will be allowed to conduct scientific research, lay submarine cables, and explore and exploit for natural resources in the Philippine Rise,” he said.
He said all scientific research licenses are also “deemed cancelled.” Citing information from the Department of Foreign Affairs, he said research works conducted by the United States, Japan, Korea and China have already concluded.
But several minutes later, Roque revealed that the President’s position limiting Philippine Rise exploration to Filipinos was “not an absolute rule.”
Likewise, DA through the BFAR, which issues gratuitous permits for foreign marine explorations, will dispatch its new off-shore vessels to monitor the area for presence of foreign entities.
According to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Jonas Leones, the agency has not received any requests for foreign scientific studies.
But the DENR, through its Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB), will be conducting its own exploration of the Philippine Rise until 2019.
“MGB will explore possible natural gas, while BMB will assess biodiversity and marine resources existing in the area,” he said. (With a report from Ellalyn de Vera-Ruiz)