Contrary to Palace claims, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the Philippines, despite its limited resources, can explore and exploit the still untapped resources of the Philippine Rise on its own, even without China’s help, with sufficient funding for research and development.
As early as 2013, the Philippines, through the Department of Agriculture—Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Department of Science and Technology and before that, the Department of Energy (DOE), have been conducting exploration in the Philippine Rise, particularly the Benham Bank, the shallowest portion of the 13-million hectare underwater plateau.
A traditional fishing ground 250 kilometers off Aurora province, the Philippine Rise had been observed to have 100-percent coral cover.
It is also a spawning ground for the commercially viable bluefin tuna. The Philippine Rise is also being eyed for magnesium and other minerals, including natural oil and gas by the DOE.
In a news statement, Pamalakaya said by promoting and developing the local marine science industry, the Philippines can exploit the country’s newest territory “on our own even without the help of China.”
The group was reacting to Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr.’s statement on Tuesday, saying Filipinos do not have the ability or financial means to carry out the research in the Philippine Rise after criticisms mounted over the government’s decision to partner with China to conduct marine research in the territory believed to be rich in natural resources.
According to Pamalakaya, which strongly opposed the joint exploration, China has vested interest over the Philippine Rise. It said the joint research is a precursor to Chinese incursion of the country’s territorial waters, similar to what happened in the Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Located opposite to the disputed South China Sea, the Philippine Rise has been declared by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in April 2012 as part of the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone.
Through Executive Order 25 signed by President Duterte in May last year, the undersea feature has been renamed from Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.
To recall, a joint research between the Philippines and China has been approved by the Department of Foreign Affairs, an agreement which Pamalakaya opposed, saying the joint research blanketed with the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking is a pretext of China for another occupation activity in Philippine marine territory.
The group noted scientist group Agham’s claim that the University of the Philippines College of Fisheries had once acquired three research vessels, namely, the Merchant Vessel (MV) Pompano, MV Albacore and the Research Vessel Sardinella which can be used in the conduct the underwater research in the area.
According to Pamalakaya, the MV Pompano, which was acquired in 1962, has 113 gross tons equipped with tuna long line and oceanographic equipment. The vessel was also equipped with radar and various electronic equipment onboard, such as fish finder, signal buoys and radio direction finder, among others.
It had been utilized for training and research in different waters, such as Celebes Sea, Sulu Sea, Visayan Sea, and the waters of Luzon.