House panel declares portion of Philippine Rise a protected area

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
House panel declares portion of Philippine Rise a protected area
This undated file photo shows the sea floor at Philippine or Benham Rise.

MANILA, Philippines — A House panel approved Wednesday to declare a portion of the Philippine Rise a protected area despite strong objections from a House leader over concerns that the measure may limit the country’s territorial claim over the sea feature.

The House natural resources committee passed a substitute bill declaring a portion of the Philippine Rise within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the Philippine Sea as a marine resource reserve.

Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Marikina) explained that experts recommended that a portion of the Philippine Rise be classified as a marine reserve instead of a natural park, which was what he originally proposed.

“We were enlightened that it would be best that we would make it a marine reserve in order for us to take advantage of the natural resources therein,” Biazon said upon the query of Deputy Speaker Lito Atienza.

Atienza, however, raised concerns that the measure may be limiting the country’s claim to the Philippine Rise.

“This is not the time to limit ourselves to a small area,” he said. “‘Pag tayo pa ang gumawa ng batas na nililimitahan natin ang ating interes, eh parang pinahihina pa natin ang posisyon ng Pilipinas sa darating na panahon.”

(If we create a law that limits our interests, it’s like we are weakening the Philippines’ position in the future.)

Lawmakers spar

Atienza attempted to delay the approval of the measure, arguing that it should be discussed further, but House natural resources committee chair Rep. Elpidio Barzaga (Cavite) said there have been enough discussions on the measure during the technical working group meetings.

But Atienza was not deterred by this and continued to pursue his line of questioning, which Barzaga tried to interrupt, resulting in both lawmakers talking over each other.

Atienza branded the committee hearing a “Barzaga bandwagon” and accused the Cavite lawmaker of having “dictatorial tendencies” and “railroading” the passage of the bill.

Barzaga insisted that he was just following the will of the majority, even though most of the lawmakers present at the hearing were silent as the two senior lawmakers sparred.

Barzaga briefly suspended the hearing in the middle of his heated argument with Atienza and returned to resume the hearing after around five minutes with a blood pressure monitor attached to his arm.

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