By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Chinese researchers were allowed to explore the Philippine Rise without the presence of Filipino counterparts.
The Senate committee on science and technology learned this today as it started its probe on the status of Filipino maritime programs in the resources-rich underwater plateau.
At the hearing, the University of the Philippines’ Maritime Science Institute (UP-MSI) admitted leaving Chinese researchers to explore Philippine Rise even as the latter’s permit required the presence of Filipino contingents while they conduct their study in January this year.
UP-MSI director Dr. Fernando Siringan said they have not completed the cruise with explorers from the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOCAS).
Asked by committee chairman Sen. Bam Aquino, Dr. Cesar Villanoy, a faculty member in the UP-MSI, said this was because the IOCAS required that they board the ship from China and from there travel nonstop to the Philippine waters, and the rest of the study period which he said was scheduled for one month.
He said this was “too long” for local contingents since the research concerning the jurisdiction of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) would only take six days.
Villanoy however said they were in the Chinese vessel for the only three days of their six-day voyage.
“Medyo mahaba kasi may mga klase kami at trabaho; Hindi kami makaprovide ng tao to join the whole cruise,” Villanoy explained.
“Most of the work that they did was outside our EEZ,” he added.
He, on the other hand, clarified that the UP-MSI was able to monitor the rest of foreigners’ activities in the Philippine Rise and that the necessary data were given to them.
Aquino however maintained that China should not have been allowed to continue their research without the Filipino marine researchers. It was an evident violation of the conditions in their permit, he said.
“In the interest of national security, hindi po ba kapag may (when there are) foreign ships within our EEZ, dapat may Filipinong nakasakay (shouldn’t there be a Filipino on board?)” Aquino asked the resource speakers.
Presidential Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, in the hearing, agreed with Aquino, saying foreign researchers were supposed to take in Filipino researchers in their boats, “otherwise, they will not be allowed to conduct their research.”
“In this case, the condition was not fulfilled,” Aquino said.
Villanoy, in defense, said they did not have enough time to prepare since the China vessel was “already at sea” when the Philippine government approved their application in December. The Philippine Rise, he said, was only part of their month-long research.
Aquino, saying he understands the plight of Filipino researchers, then lamented that the government’s “being too nice” with China.
“Masyado naman kasi tayong mabait, eh. Kung hindi handa yung researchers natin, e di pa-postpone natin. It’s our territory, it’s our prerogataive when to have the MSR (marine science research),” Aquino said.
“Ganun ba kahirap yun, sabihin niyo, ‘Gusto niyo ng gumawa ng research sa aming bansa, eh di bumalik kayo kapag ready na kami.’ Kasi it is our sovereign right. That is very basic,” he added.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Lourdes Yparaguirre, in her explanation, said Filipino researchers had to be pulled out halfway of the voyage due to a low pressure area in the Philippine Rise.
Yparaguirree assured the senator that violations in permits could be a reason for denial of future research applications.
She added that the DFA had met Chinese officials on matters regarding the Philippine Rise where they agreed that all MSRs should have consent, and that terms of condition in the approval should be followed.
Esperon said applications would now have to go through his office so that he could make recommendations to President Duterte whether or not to approve permits.
Siringan meanwhile raised the Philippines’ need for more full-time marine researchers so that such activities will be fully observed so that the country can conduct its own study on Philippine waters. He said Filipino marine biologists are known for their excellent studies, especially on shallow waters.
He also called on the government to invest on a research vessel capable of conducting deep-sea studies.