DFA has allowed China to explore Benham Rise, other PH waters — Alejano

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Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano said Friday he received information that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) approved the request of China’s Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (IO-CAS) to conduct research in Philippine waters.

But the DFA required the Chinese scientists to be joined by the University of the Philippines – Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) in researching the marine area covering Eastern Luzon, where Benham Rise is located, and Eastern Mindanao.

Alejano expressed concern that China might have other motives in making the request.

“We should be careful and prudent in granting any access to our waters especially with China who is known to claim 80 percent of our EEZ in South China Sea through its expansive 9-dash line,” he said in a statement.

Interestingly, according to Alejano, there was a similar request from a French-based non-profit organization, Tara Expeditions Foundation, to conduct marine research in the general area where the Chinese would be conducting their research.

“However, the request was declined,” he said.

“Provided that we need additional resources and capabilities to study and explore our eastern waters, particularly the Benham Rise, the French-based non-profit organization is way preferable than a Chinese national scientific think tank. The Philippines has no territorial conflict with France, vis-à-vis China which has shown aggression and great interest on our territories. Geographically speaking, France is not an immediate security threat to us compared to China,” Alejano, a former Marine officer, argued.

“If in terms of the capability of Tara, I think it is also safe to assume that it is competent as much as IO-CAS, having already accomplished high-level scientific research missions across the world’s oceans,” he added.

Alejano recalled that China has sought several times for a permit to conduct research in Benham Rise since 2015, but all were rejected because of denial of involvement of Filipino experts, according to DFA’s Maritime and Oceans Affairs Office.

“China has been adamant on exploring Benham Rise and they have no intention of involving Filipino scientists. It seems that China was only forced to collaborate with UP-MIS for the sake of getting the permit. Given this initial behavior, we should be worried on whether the Philippines will be given equal access to all information culled by the joint project,” Alejano said

“So why China? All things considered, allowing a Chinese national think tank to conduct a so-called scientific research over Philippine waters, even with participation of Filipinos, is careless and absurd. What is really the intention of the Duterte administration in allowing such activity at the expense of our national security?” Alejano asked.

Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf awarded by the United Nations in 2012 which provides us the exclusive sovereign rights over it. The area is believed to be rich in minerals and gas.