Benham R&D to be multi-agency effort

Rainier Allan Ronda (The Philippine Star) - May 31, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang’s recent send-off of a team of scientists and researchers to the Philippine Rise signalled a multi-agency and multi-disciplinary effort for research and development on the vast undersea plateau.

Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said the department had been conducting a mostly lonely R&D effort on the former Benham Rise with some vessel support from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“Many are becoming interested,” Dela Peña told reporters.

“DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has already taken the initiative to declare parts of Benham Rise as marine protected areas,” he noted.

Dela Peña said that the DOST has poured resources for R&D on the undersea plateau after the United Nations declared it as part of the country’s continental shelf.

“We are sometimes always late on things. We already have information on the resources available there, we have obtained the necessary… legal rights to manage the area. I think we should not dilly-dally,” Dela Peña said.

“Because, as we have experienced in other cases, non-action has put us at a disadvantage,” he added. “I’m happy the President has given priority to this, not only to show to the world that this is our territory, but also to be able to come up with the appropriate plans to manage and protect the resources.”

The DOST has allocated P38 million this year for R&D of Philippine Rise, Dela Peña said.

According to Dela Peña, the DOST had spent P39 million for the first exploration activities through its attached agencies Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development, and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development in 2016 to 2017.

“This had three components: one of them is to look at the physical configuration, the exact measurement of the physical features,” he said, pointing out the undersea landmass measured 13.6 million hectares.

“Second, there was research to build a database of marine resource information. Third, a survey of the benthic resources that included taking a look at the marine life and that’s when we saw the different species of not only fish, there was also algae and corals,” he said.

The National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) had sent three of its members to the expedition last week.

Doralyn   Dalisay,  a marine scientist from the University of San Agustin, said that the vast resources underneath can be a source of new drugs: antibiotics, anti-cancer compounds, anti-dengue and anti-malaria. 

“We could find something new here that we could exploit for drug discovery,” she said.

Gil Jacinto, representing the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute, said that aside from the rich marine biodiversity, the importance of Philippine Rise is seen in fisheries, oceanography and meteorology, and hoped for the continued support of the government in their research activities.

“Research will not only be done in two years but decades for future generations,” he said.

Clarita Carlos, a member of the NRCP governing board, was also in the contingent.

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