By Hannah L. Torregoza and Genalyn D. Kabiling
Senator Nancy Binay urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yesterday to disclose details of the government’s transactions with China, which has been permitted to conduct scientific research in the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise).
Binay said the DFA should provide the Senate a list of all foreign, Filipino-led studies and oceanic explorations on the resource-rich 13 million-hectare underwater plateau located on the country’s eastern seaboard.
“In the interest of transparency, it would be best for the DFA to share to the public the extent of the study, research and exploration of China in Benham Rise,” Binay said in a statement.
“And since it is the DFA which approves or disapproves scientific researches in both the West and East Philippine Seas, it is only appropriate if they could provide a list of all Filipino- and foreign-led expeditions in our waters since 2010,” she stressed.
The senator stressed there is nothing wrong if Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano discloses details of the marine research.
“It’s best to know the extent of aid the government of China is willing to provide for this research. If it does not undermine the country’s sovereignty, then I don’t see anything wrong why the DFA cannot provide us with the details of the agreement between the Philippines and China,” she pointed out.
For his part, Senator Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV urged the Duterte administration of tapping the Philippines’ best scientists to conduct research and exploration at the Philippine Rise instead of allowing China to do it.
Aquino said the government should not underestimate the intelligence and ability of Filipino scientists in conducting research in Benham Rise.
“Hindi natin kailangan ang China para gawin ito (We do not need China to do this),” said Aquino, chair of the Senate committee on science and technology.
Aquino pointed out, some Filipino scientists have made claims that they have already conducted research and exploration initiatives in Benham Rise.
This is contrary, he said, to Malacañang’s declaration that only China is capable of conducting scientific research.
Yesterday, Malacañang said the government is not favoring China over Filipinos and other foreign nations on the exploration of the Philippine Rise.
Even as China has been allowed to conduct research in the area, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque clarified that Filipinos could explore the Benham Rise without getting the consent of the government.
“I never said that Filipinos cannot conduct research in Benham Rise. On the contrary, only Filipinos can do so even without express consent of our state,” Roque said in a statement.
The government has also approved research requests made by the United States, Japan and South Korea on the Benham Rise, according to Roque.
“This hopefully puts to rest the issue that the current administration is favoring China in the issue of Benham Rise,” he said.