“We don’t actually need China or any other country in exploring the potentials of our natural resources if the government is sincere in developing and maintaining our research facilities.”
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – On January 19, news broke that China built an airstrip in the Philippine Rise (formerly known as Benham Rise).
Related story: Fisherfolk group slams joint research with China in PH Rise
Instead of asserting territorial sovereignty, the Duterte administration was only more willing to surrender it to the Chinese for ‘joint research’ and exploitation. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque even remarked that it would be impossible for a Filipino-only team to conduct a ‘capital-intensive’ research in the Philippine Rise.
Other government agencies have remained mum on the issue.
Surrender by silence
In April 2017, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) was able to conduct research in the Philippine Rise. BFAR even remarked how important the territory is as a major food source.
BFAR was able to go to the plateau using offshore vessels, named Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Lapu-Lapu and BRP Francisco Dagohoy, produced by local shipping construction company Josefa Slipways.
Rather than refuting Roque’s statement or issuing support for the Philippines’ claim, progressive fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) pointed out BFAR’s noticeable silence on the issue.
“We call on the attention of BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona and DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu; the least they could do is to denounce Malacanang’s claim through Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque that the Philippines is incapable of doing research in our own yard alone. These agencies should also supply this seemingly “international law expert” with necessary information so he is enlightened on the issue before he speaks for Malacanang,” PAMALAKAYA Chairperson Fernando Hicap said in a statement.
PAMALAKAYA urged BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu to stand for territorial sovereignty over the plateau.
By remaining silent, the Duterte administration is effectively abandoning the Philippines’ legal claim in the plateau, and in doing so, has chosen to prioritize foreign aid and investments to be supplied by China, now one of its foreign masters.
Neglecting national scientists
The Duterte administration also drew flak for underestimating Filipino scientists. Instead of helping national scientists to conduct research in the Philippine Rise, it prioritized a ‘joint research’ with China.
As Roque explained, only China is able to conduct research in the plateau because other applicants ‘did not qualify according to fixed guidelines set by the government’. While Filipinos do not need to secure consent from the government, he admitted that ‘no one has applied. And no one can do it because, apparently, it’s capital intensive’.
Refuting this claim, scientist group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham) said that three research vessels were purchased by the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Fisheries. Without proper maintenance, however, these vessels were not maximized for research in various offshore areas that still form part of Philippine territory.
“The government neglect of a scientific development deprives our local marine scientists and oceanographers to conduct research in the Philippine Rise,” Hicap explained.