A misunderstanding on research ships

Published August 19, 2019, 12:51 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

e-cartoon-aug-19-2019Reports of Chinese research ships seen at the Philippine Rise last week prompted calls on the Philippine government to ban the research vessels. Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Monday he had earlier restricted marine survey ships of France and Japan and would now “universalize the ban” and include China.

The next day, Monday, however, Secretary Locsin withdrew his directive on research ships. The country cannot ban marine surveys after all, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said. Foreign navies enjoy freedom of navigation through the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). “We have been allowing foreign survey ships into our waters in the past,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said by way of comment.

The fact is under UNCLOS, the waters inside a coastal country’s 200-mile EEZ are international waters. The country has the ”sovereign right” to develop any resources in the land beneath the sea. It is only within our territorial waters – 12 miles from the coast – that we can ban foreign vessels.

In the wake of the reports clarifying the reports on maritime research, the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea contacted Secretary Locsin about its marine survey program at Benham Rise and its invitation to Chinese and other foreign scientists to join the research. In response, Secretary Locsin said: “Philippine marine survey ship is a go. Invite foreigners, including Chinese. Knowledge has no enemy except ignorance….”

The concern voiced by some quarters on Chinese research ships seen in our EEZ reflects a paranoia that seems to have infected some sectors, including Philippine officialdom. Contrary to these fears, our relations with our neighbor to the northwest have never been as close as they are today. The number of Chinese tourists has doubled. Our banana exports have tripled, boosting the national economy and generating jobs.

President Duterte is preparing to visit Beijing and meet with President Xi Jinping at the end of this month. They will sign a number of agreements, including an oil exploration and development deal that will be a great boost to our economic development.