By Ellson Quismorio
Malacañang’s directive to halt all foreign scientific surveys and expeditions in the Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise, could be a “farce” or an empty gesture, Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman said.
The opposition lawmaker is not impressed and only wants the Duterte administration to answer only one fundamental question surrounding the stoppage order.
“Are there still scientific groups conducting surveys in Benham Rise? Because the information of (Magdalo Party-List Rep.) Gary (Alejano) is that the Chinese scientific group has left already after finishing their survey.”
Lagman, at the “Magnificent Seven’s” weekly press conference at the House of Representatives Tuesday,
pointed out that the Palace order is meaningless if there are no longer any foreign vessels to shoo away at the Philippine Rise.
“Eh kung wala na dyan na mga scientific groups (If there are no longer any scientific groups there, then this supposed stoppage is academic! It’s a farce! I think the administration must answer this question,” he said.
The Philippine Rise–a fertile fishing ground–is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 160 miles east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.
The Philippine Rise entered the consciousness of most Filipinos last year after it was visited by foreign vessels. The continental shelf was named after Andrew Benham, the American geologist who discovered it in 1933.
Recently, Chinese vessels seeking to conduct a marine scientific research (MSR) in the area also sparked controversy. The MSR request, which covers the period from January 24 to February 25, was granted by Philippine authorities.
However, Alejano bared, at the same presscon, that the foreign contingent has already left the rise.
“I cannot remember exactly but I think they left two days ago,” the former Marine captain said, citing personal sources. He likewise tried to downplay the significance of the government’s maritime research prohibition.
“It was a knee-jerk reaction from the administration after the overwhelming opposition of the public on allowing China to conduct marine scientific research in Benham Rise,” said Alejano, who has been very vocal regarding alleged foreign intrusion in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Magnificent Seven is the self-styled opposition bloc in the House.