Senator Bam Aquino on Monday said that the Philippine government must explore all channels to overturn China’s move to name the five undersea features in the Philippine Rise or the Benham Rise violated the country’s sovereign rights.
During the hearing of the Committee on Science and Technology on the Benham Rise, Aquino said they found out that in previous years, China violated the country’s sovereign rights when it conducted hydrographic surveys in the Benham Rise without required consent of the Philippine government.
He said the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority noted that in the previous violation, alongside the ongoing dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine government can call on the International hydrogrophic Organizatio to nullify its approval of the Chinese names.
He said China can also be requested to withdraw their naming rights. If they agree, he said this could be a show of good faith and friendship from the Chinese government.
“Let’s be more vigilant with the Philippine Rise. Ipaglaban naman natin ito,” said Aquino.
Asked on possible moves by the government in the event of violations, he said there can be a note verbale, or the issue can be raised to a higher body. He also cited the bilateral meetings between the Philippines and China.
“We want to know the output in the bilateral meeting. So, maybe in the next hearing, we can ask them to tell us about the agreements... There might be some agreements in the bilateral meetings. But again, that happened in the West (Philippine Sea).
“There are already illegal structures there in the West Philippine Sea. Are we goig to allow this in the East? Perhaps, they might be thinking that we are running out of our mind in this research. But you have to look at it in the context that we have military bases, already threatening our sovereignty,” he added.
He said the issue of China conducting research in Philippine waters, particularly in the area that includes the extensive Benham Rise, will not be a cause for concern if there had not been Chinese infraction on the western side.
He was referring to the West Philippine Sea, where China has been building structures over Philippine waters.
In light of the China installations in the West Philippine Sea, Aquino pointed out that we should be more cautious with foreign research expeditions in the Philippine Rise and ensure that our permits are strictly enforced.
Aquino also said that the country must find research partners who will follow the country’s rules.
“Mahirap makipag partner sa pasaway. We should find partners who will follow our rules,” said the opposition senator.
National Security Council (NSC) adviser Hermogenes Esperon warned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to stop all Marine Scientific Research (MSR) would be unfortunate for the country especially for the scientific community.
On February 6, the President said that all foreign MSR in the Philippine Rise are to stop so the country can take a pause because the public discussion on the MSR appears to be going in all directions.
Following this directive, Esperon said that on February 23, he met with the technical working group that receives and acts on MSR applications, which is headed by the Assistant Secretary for Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office under the Department of Foreign Affairs.
After that meeting, he said it became clear to him that the MSRs were conducted for the benefit of all mankind.
“We already know that a diverse array of marine organisms is used for food, medicines, cosmetics and a wealth of other applications. The commercial development of marine organisms to be used for product will only continue. Therefore, subject to national interest, domestic and international laws should be opened for MSR to both Filipino and foreign scientists.
By doing so, he said the Philippines also improves its own capabilities to conduct MSR by joining or partnering with foreign scientists.
He said the country could develop capabilities to exploit marine resources pharmaceuticals, food and others.