“Speak up on Benham Rise issue!” – DENR, BFAR told
Manila, Philippines – “In the midst of the raging controversy regarding the Philippine Rise, the deafening silence of two government lead agencies, namely, the BFAR and the DENR is utterly disappointing,” according to the militant fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas), urging the two agencies to speak up and make a stand against the government’s sell-out of our marine territory.
The group said Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are supposed to be at the forefront of conducting research in the fishing resources and management of the marine biodiversity of the rise.
Philippine Rise is a 13-million-hectare resource rich underwater plateau located opposite to the disputed South China Sea, it has been declared by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in April 2012 as part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Through the Executive Order No. 25 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in May last year, the undersea feature has been renamed from Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.
Aside from China, the Duterte administration has approved research applications from several countries such as Japan, United States, and South Korea; which was opposed by the fishers group, saying it is a gross violation of our patrimony and tantamount to surrender of sovereign rights.
The fisherfolk group noted that BFAR and DENR have already conducted exploratory trips and research on the plateau before.
“We call on the attention of BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona and DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu; the least they could do is to denounce Malacanang’s claim through Presidential Spox Harry Roque that the Philippines is incapable of doing research in our own yard alone. These agencies should also supply this seemingly “international law expert” with necessary information so he is enlightened with the issue before he speaks for Malacanang,”
“Roque’s statement was not only an insult to the Filipino scientists but also a derogatory remark against strategic agencies that are mandated to spearhead the duty,” Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA Chairperson said in a statement.
PAMALAKAYA asked the Bureau of Fisheries to present to the public the result of its exploratory trip in Philippine Rise with the Department of Agriculture (DA) last year with the goal to discover the marine resources in the area.
The group also questioned the use of BFAR’s two new offshore multi-mission vessels that were launched in August last year. The two brand new vessels were named Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) Lapu-Lapu and BRP Francisco Dagohoy; they are 50-meter vessels that cost P250-million each. They were produced by the Navotas-based Josefa Slipways using welded high tensile AH36 steel.
“First of all, we want to know what happened to the government-funded exploratory trip made by the DA-BFAR in Benham Rise. We are asking this not only to scrutinize the bureau but also to refute Roque’s absurd remark. This is also to prove themselves to the Filipino people that they are bound by their mandates of protecting our natural resources for the benefit of the country,” said Hicap.
The group challenged DENR Chief Cimatu and BFAR Director Gongona to issue a joint statement condemning Malacanang’s approval of research activities from foreign countries.
“This is not only an issue of sovereign rights, but a management of our biodiversity, fisheries, mineral, oil and gas in the region,”
“Moreover, we call not only for the promotion of local research and development, but also for the modernization of fishing industry through equipping Filipino fishers with more advanced and adequate fishing vessels so that they could utilize our own fishing grounds. This will also boost the food security in the country,” ended Hicap. ###