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Alejano: DFA approved Chinese think tank request to study Philippine waters

Without revealing his source of information, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano slammed the Department of Foreign Affairs for supposedly allowing the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) to conduct research in Eastern Luzon, where Benham Rise is located, and Eastern Mindanao. File

MANILA, Philippines — A lawmaker on Friday claimed that the government has granted China's request to conduct marine scientific research in Philippine waters, including the potentially resource-rich Benham Rise.

Without revealing the source of his information, Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list) slammed the Department of Foreign Affairs for supposedly allowing the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) to conduct research in waters off Eastern Luzon, where Benham Rise is located, and off Eastern Mindanao.

Alejano said the Chinese researchers will be joined by the University of the Philippines – Marine Science Institute “as a requirement.”

Aside from the Chinese think tank, Alejano also claimed that a similar request for the same area was sent by French-based non-profit organization Tara Expeditions Foundation.

However, Tara Expeditions’ request was declined, he said.

The DFA has yet to reply to Philstar.com’s request for a comment.

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In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the Philippines’ undisputed claim to the Benham Rise.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier signed an Executive Order officially renaming Benham Rise to “Philippine Rise” to assert the country’s sovereignty there following reports that Chinese research vessels were spotted surveying the area in 2016.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had described the presence of these Chinese ships as “very concerning,” adding the vessels sometimes stayed for as long as a month reportedly in search of areas to park their submarines.

In response, China dismissed Lorenzana’s report, saying their ships were “exercising navigation freedoms and the right to innocent passage only.” The Philippine Navy now regularly patrols the said continental shelf.

Why China?

In the same statement, Alejano questioned the granting of permit to IO-CAS to conduct a research in Philippine waters, citing China’s maritime encroachment in the disputed South China Sea, which both Manila and Beijing claim.

Alejano, a former Marine officer, said Tara Expeditions was a better choice if the Philippines is seeking additional resources and manpower to study eastern waters.

He also stressed that unlike China, France has no territorial conflict with the Philippines.

“Geographically speaking, France is not an immediate security threat,” Alejano said.

“So why China? All things considered, allowing a Chinese national think tank to conduct a so-called scientific research over Philippine waters, even with participation of Filipinos, is careless and absurd,” he added.

“China has been adamant on exploring Benham Rise and they have no intention of involving Filipino scientists... Given this initial behavior, we should be worried on whether the Philippines will be given equal access to all information culled by the joint project.”

According to Alejano, information from the DFA’s Maritime and Oceans Affairs Office show that China has sought several times for a permit to conduct research in Benham Rise since 2015, but all were rejected because of “denial of involvement of Filipino experts.”

READ: DFA: China did not explain presence in Benham Rise

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