MANILA - Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque cried foul over reports of some media outlets about his remarks on the research and exploration in Benham Rise.
Roque said he never claimed that Filipinos cannot explore Benham Rise when he answered a question on why China was allowed to explore this part of the Philippines' extended continental shelf.
"Fake news po 'yan... May dalawa po kasing tanong, kung bakit binigyan ng lisensiya ang Tsina para mag-conduct ng scientific study. 'Yun po ang sinagot ko, kung bakit binigyan ng lisensiya ang Tsina," he said In a press briefing in Iloilo City Sunday.
"'Yung sinasabi ko pa nga po 'pag Pilipino, hindi kinakailangan ng lisensiya dahil meron tayong sovereign right na mangalap ng tanging yaman at mag-conduct ng scientific researches," he explained further.
Roque said he was surprised about how his remarks was reported on media but despite these "fake news" he will continue to protect free speech and free press as this has been his advocacy for a long time.
"Well talaga naman pong adbokasiya ko na protektahan itong malayang panananalita at malayang pamamahayag. Sabi nga sa isang kaso: Kung walang fake news, hindi natin malalaman kung ano 'yung true news. Kung hindi natin malalaman ang kasinungalingan, hindi rin natin malalaman ang katotohanan," he said.
Roque was referring to a press conference in Malacañang where he said Filipinos do not need to apply for any license to explore Benham Rise, which is said to have untapped gas reserves.
The Department of Foreign Affairs earlier granted the request of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oceanology to do research at in the underwater plateau located east of Isabela.
"Only China has qualified so far. There are other applicants. Unfortunately, they did not qualify according to fixed guidelines already set by the government," said Roque after he was asked why China was allowed to conduct the research.
The Presidential spokesperson was also asked why not let Filipinos do the research, to which he answered: "Because no one has applied, and no one can do it because, apparently, it’s capital-intensive."
"You do not need a permit for any Filipino corporation to conduct scientific investigation in Benham Rise because it is ours so that’s not something that a consent has to be given by the government," he stressed.
His remarks drew flak from local scientists, with the director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea saying calling this "a total sham meant to disempower and demean Filipinos and their capacity and capability as a people."