Clarify terms of Chinese research in Benham, government urged

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — An international marine conservation group is calling on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to release documents that it used as basis for allowing China to conduct research in Benham or Philippine Rise.

Oceana, through its local unit, made the call as Chinese vessel Ke Hue Hao arrived in the waters off Palanan, Isabela yesterday to begin its research work in Benham.

In a letter to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Oceana said allowing a foreign government to conduct research activities in Philippine waters without stakeholder participation and transparency raises a lot of questions.

The research work led by the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) in the eastern seaboard, including Philippine Rise, would last until Feb. 25.

“We have been vigorously pushing for legal protection in the form of a presidential proclamation for this sacred national patrimony by declaring the portion of Philippine Rise including Benham Bank as a marine reserve or marine protected area, with no human activity allowed,” Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Ramos said.

In line with this, the group is asking the DFA to release pertinent documents including DFA’s approval and the proponent’s application; the department’s rules for approving marine scientific research; and a list of marine scientific research conducted by Chinese researchers and their objectives.

Oceana is also asking for a prior written approval of the research work from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau and the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

“We want to know the specific area and reason for the alleged research and of DFA’s approval, considering that our own brilliant scientists and institutions have undertaken research in the iconic area,” Ramos said.

The group is expecting that the government will accord the highest level of protection to Philippine Rise as part of the state’s mandate to “protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”

“Apart from issues related to integrity of our national territory, sovereign rights, ecological destruction, transparency and constitutionality, because of such issuance, it must be mentioned that two government-led expeditions of our highly competent scientists to the Philippine Rise were done in 2014 and 2016. Official reports of such expeditions are still to be released,” Ramos said.

Oceana was part of the government-led expedition to the Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the Philippine Rise in 2016.

The Philippine Rise was designated as an “ecologically and biologically significant marine area” by 196 countries during the 13th Meeting of the Convention of Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity in Mexico in December 2016. – With Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero

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