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Cayetano: 'Same rules for all countries' seeking to study Philippine waters

Sought for comment, Foreign Affiars Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that while he has yet to check the details of the supposed DFA-approved Chinese exploration, the law gives equal chance to foreign countries to study Philippine waters as long as there are Filipinos on board. Mohd Rasfan/Pool Photo via AP

MANILA, Philippines — “Same rules for all the countries.”

This was Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s assurance to the public after a lawmaker blasted his agency for supposedly allowing a Chinese think tank to conduct marine research in Philippine waters, including the potentially resource-rich Benham Rise.

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list) slammed the Department of Foreign Affairs for granting the request of 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.

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

Alejano also revealed that a similar plea was lodged by French-based non-profit organization Tara Expeditions Foundation, but it was declined by the DFA.

Sought for comment, Cayetano said that while he has yet to check the details of the supposed DFA-approved Chinese exploration, the law gives equal chance to foreign countries to study Philippine waters as long as there are Filipinos on board.

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Foreign marine researchers must also share their findings and data with their Filipino counterparts, Cayetano said.

“So there’s nothing suspicious about approval or disapproval of scientific research,” the country’s top diplomat said.

“Whether they are Americans, Japanese, Chinese Mongolians, Singaporeans, et cetera, if they comply, we will approve. If they do not comply, we will not approve,” he added.

Alejano had 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 said Tara Expeditions was a better choice if Manila was seeking additional resources and manpower to study eastern waters, noting that France, unlike China, has no territorial conflict with the Philippines.

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.

The Philippine Navy now regularly patrols the said continental shelf.

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

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