CASIGURAN, Aurora President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday called for the conservation of the Philippine Rise (formerly Benham Rise) as he sent off an all-Filipino marine scientists team that will conduct a one-month maritime scientific research (MSR) in what he described as the country's new frontier.
In a program held onboard BRP Davao Del Sur at the Casiguran Bay, Duterte said the Philippines has not only been granted access but entrusted not to abuse and misuse the vast resources of the Philippine Rise.
Let us therefore explore this new frontier, fully aware of our responsibility to properly manage and conserve its natural resources, for the benefit of present and future generations of Filipinos, Duterte said in his speech.
Commercial fishing, he said, will still be allowed in the Philippine Rise but it will be done strictly in accordance with accepted principles also of the preservation of marine life.
Duterte expressed optimism that the country's premier marine scientists will be able to undertake the Coordinated National Marine Scientific Research Initiatives and Related Activities (CONMIRA) in the Philippine Rise.
I have complete faith in the capabilities of our world-class scientists, Duterte said.
Indeed, these developments would not have been possible without the efforts of our dedicated public servants, scientists and legal experts who worked together to bolster our claim over the Philippine Rise, he added.
The President recognized the need to provide the marine scientists with the necessary means to fulfill their mandate.
As we send off our experts to explore and discover what our seas have to offer, may we all have a renewed sense of commitment to promote the welfare of our people, safeguard our national interest, and assert our sovereign rights over our waters and all other areas within our jurisdiction, Duterte said.
Duterte drew applause when he said the marine scientists can use the country's resources, particularly from the Philippine Navy.
The Navy is at your disposal if you think that there are important undertakings to do. So be it, you can use the resources of the Republic of the Philippines, Duterte said to the delight of the marine scientists, many of them from the University of the Philippines.
Though Philippine Rise is not a disputed maritime territory, Duterte asserted the country's sovereign rights and emphasized that Filipino marine scientists should be given priority to explore the vast undersea area.
The Philippine Rise is home to at least 200 fish species, mostly of blue marlin, tuna, and whale sharks.
Previous MSR results showed also vast deposits of methane hydrate in the Philippine Rise which makes the country one of the biggest natural gas exporters worldwide.
Duterte arrived on board a presidential chopper that landed at the helipad of the country's second largest BRP at exactly 3:45 p.m.
Accompanied by Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go, Duterte then visited different exhibition booths showing the country's progress in asserting its claim to the undersea feature believed to be rich in marine resources.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, North Luzon Command Chief Lt/Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, actor Robin Padilla and other government officials welcomed the President.
The send-off ceremony was part of a two-day event of the Philippine Rise Commemoration Activity that also include the casting of the first buoy and the laying of a flag at the shallowest point of the Philippine Bank on May 16.
Duterte will skip the event at the Philippine Bank, saying his presence during the symbolic send-off program was enough to assert the country's jurisdiction over the 13-million hectare extended continental shelf (ECS) of Philippine Rise.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told the media that the send-off was held at the Casiguran Bay instead of Benham Bank since it was just symbolic.
This is a symbolic trip to Philippine Rise and we're here to send off the Filipino scientists. I think he was able to send a message to the world that only Filipino will benefit in the Philippine Rise, Roque said in a media interview.
"Let me explain that Philippine Rise is a continental shelf under the water so you cannot physically visit because you need to dive," he added.
The commemoration even was also highlighted by the signing of a presidential proclamation declaring the Philippine Rise a marine protected area.
According to the proclamation, around 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise shall become a Strict Protection Zone limited to scientific studies while more than 300,000 hectares shall be designated as a Special Fisheries Management Area.
A year ago, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 25 renaming the undersea feature from Benham Rise into Philippine Rise.
Since he signed the EO, Duterte had issued at least five directives to the National Security Council, leading to the creation of the Integrated Management Plan for Philippine Rise.
Meanwhile, Duterte's plan to ride a jet ski did not push through. Instead, he was represented by his son, Sebastian "Baste" Duterte, Go, and Esperon.
The Philippine Rise Region, which is approximately 24 million hectares in size, is located within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and 118-nm ECS awarded to the Philippines by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on April 12, 2012. (PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency