Palace: Foreigners can still apply to study Philippine Rise

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Palace: Foreigners can still apply to study Philippine Rise

"It’s not really a ban, it’s just a directive that we want Filipinos to do it as much as possible, that we’re reserving it for Filipinos," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on President Rodrigo Duterte's directive to halt all foreign explorations in Benham Rise. Presidential Photo/Toto Lozano

MANILA, Philippines — After President Rodrigo Duterte ordered all foreign groups conducting research in Philippine Rise or Benham Rise out, Malacañang clarified that the directive does not mean a total ban.

Foreign entities who wish to conduct marine scientific research in the underwater plateau may still apply with the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said they would also have to secure personal approval from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

"He (Duterte) says that although all scientific research permits are deemed canceled, any new application, in addition to an application to be filed with the inter-agency technical working group, will have to make a separate application with the Office of the National Security Adviser," Roque said in a press briefing.

In a Facebook post, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol announced that Duterte had ordered the cessation of all foreign marine exploration in the region. The president announced the directive during a Cabinet meeting Monday evening.

READ: Duterte wants foreigners out of Benham Rise

Roque, on the other hand, said that there was no discussion on the issue during the Cabinet meeting as it was not part of the agenda.

"He (Duterte) started the meeting, perhaps because there is no dispute on our sovereign rights in Benham Rise and because all research had been concluded, we should now declare this as exclusively for Filipinos," Roque said.

Foreign groups may still conduct freedom of navigation operations in the region as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Foreign entities, however, are not allowed to explore and exploit natural resources in the area.

China concludes research in Benham Rise

Duterte's order comes after China concluded its marine scientific research in Benham Rise.

Controversy arose following reports that the DFA allowed a Chinese group to conduct marine scientific research in the undersea region, which is part of the Philippines' extended continental shelf.

Last month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that Chinese research vessel "Kexue" will survey the Philippine eastern waters. The exploration of the Chinese research vessel was scheduled to take place from January 24 to February 25.

On Tuesday morning, Roque said that the DFA informed him that China had concluded its scientific research and no foreign entities are conducting research in the area.

"The Chinese concluded the research and that’s what the president said. With everyone having concluded the research, we will now limit it to Filipinos," Roque said, contradicting his own statement that foreign groups may reapply for scientific research in the area after Duterte's directive.

More than 30 licenses have been issued to foreign groups to conduct research in Benham Rise since the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf declared Benham Rise as part of the Philippines' extended continental shelf.

The Philippines had approved research requests from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea from 2004, based on data released by the DFA.

RELATED: Cayetano: More research in Benham Rise advantageous to us


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