By Hannah Torregoza
Senate committee on science and technology chief Sen. Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV today urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to consider imposing stricter conditions or blacklisting foreign marine scientific research (MSR) teams who would violate or have violated Philippines rules on joint exploration exercises in the Philippine Rise or West Philippine Sea.
Speaking to reporters after the Senate hearing on the Philippine Rise, also called Benham Rise, Aquino said it is imperative that the government becomes strict in dealing with foreign entities applying for an MSR in the country’s territorial waters.
Aquino took off from the statement of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) during the hearing that China named some of the underwater sea features in Philippine Rise at the time the government refused to give them any permit to conduct an MSR in 2004.
“It turns out that at the time China conducted a research in the area that eventually led them to name these features, they were not given any permit. We didn’t give our consent to China to do the research that eventually led to the naming of the features, and this is according to NAMRIA and other government agencies,” Aquino said.
“So that starts the case, we can use it as basis to file a case and ask for the nullification of the names the Chinese has given on those features in Benham Rise,” he said.
“In the past so many years, China is not following us. They get into our territory without asking for permission and conducting marine research. And in fact, they have this on their website. They have published this already. And in fact they used that to name these features there. That alone is an issue,” he said.
While the DFA is already coming up with a new and stricter guidelines starting this year, Aquino said these conditions on new research would be deemed irrelevant if the government fails to be strict with the countries interested to conduct research in the area.
During the hearing DFA Assistant Secretary on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Lourdes Yparraguirre told the Senate panel the government discussed the issue with China during a bilateral meeting but refused to publicly disclose the details of the meeting, citing national security concerns.
Yparraguirre said she is willing to disclose the bilateral mechanism in an executive session.
“But you know, we have rules and that is only proper for other countries to follow. We should not make it a policy to always bend backwards for them. We have rules to follow and that should be followed. Not just China but all other countries should follow our own rules,” Aquino said.
“I think we owe it to ourselves to have pride and say if we have our own rules we should follow and our partners if the really our partners they should follow these rules,” Aquino stressed.
At the course of the inquiry, the senator questioned the DFA over its plans on the Chinese institute it granted permission to conduct research in Benham Rise early this year but did not fully meet the requirements set by the government.
This was after Dr. Cesar Villanoy, deputy director at the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) that the Filipino scientists who were on board the Chinese research vessel Ke Xue Hao exploring the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were only there for three out of six days.
But Yparaguirre said the team was hampered by a low pressure area (LPA) that altered their embarkation plans of the four Filipino scientists that were supposed to be part of the research conducted by the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Science (IOCAS).
Yparaguirre said noncompliance with the new Philippine rules on maritime research may result in “denial of consent” in future MSR applications.
Such discrepancies, she said, were also discussed during the bilateral consultations between China and Philippines in Manila on February 13.
“Yes, your honor, we stressed that all MSRs to be conducted by them in Philippine waters should have Philippine consent and the terms and conditions laid out in the note verbale approving the conduct of the research should be followed,” she said.
But Aquino said the government has to be fair and clear in dealing with the country’s foreign partners in maritime research especially now that they have shifted the burden of approving MSR permits to the Office of the President.
“I’m hoping that the new regulations would be stricter especially if they violated our policies before, they should either be suspended or blacklisted from conducting research in our territory,” he told reporters in an interview.