DFA allows China’s research in Benham Rise – lawmaker
Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government has allowed a Chinese scientific agency to conduct research in the vast undersea region of Benham Rise, which is part of Philippine territory, Rep. Gary Alejano of party-list group Magdalo said yesterday.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) gave the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) the go-signal to undertake “marine scientific research” in Benham Rise.

As a condition, he said the DFA required that the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) join the Chinese agency in the project.

The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise off Aurora – also called Philippine Rise – is believed to be rich in minerals, oil and gas.

Told of the DFA decision, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there was nothing wrong about the arrangement. “That’s legal if we consented to it,” Roque said.

Alejano, a former Marine captain, urged the government to be “careful and prudent in granting any access to our waters, especially to China, which is claiming 80 percent of our exclusive economic zone.”

“Interestingly, there was a similar request from a French-based non-profit organization, Tara Expeditions Foundation, to conduct marine research in the general area where the Chinese will be conducting their research. However, the request was declined,” he said.

He said the Duterte administration should have preferred the French group’s proposal “because we have no territorial conflict with France, and geographically speaking, France is not an immediate security threat to us compared to China.”

“In terms of the capability, I think it is also safe to assume that the French foundation is competent as IO-CAS, having already accomplished high-level scientific research missions across the world’s oceans,” he said.

Alejano pointed out that China has been seeking permission to conduct research in Benham Rise and has consistently refused the proposed involvement of Filipino experts in its project.

“China has been adamant on exploring Benham Rise and they have no intention of involving Filipino scientists. It seems that China was only forced to collaborate with UP-MSI for the sake of getting the permit. 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,” he stressed. – With Christina Mendez

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