MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte is seeking to purchase survey ships so the Philippines can fully explore the resources that can be tapped in the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise), Malacañang said Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there was an initial proposal to tap the Malampaya funds for the purchase of the survey ships, but this could encounter problems as this funding source can only be used for energy-related projects.
“And so it was [Finance] Secretary [Carlos] Dominguez who said, we have the money anyway, we will buy even if we do not have to use Malampaya funds. So the government will buy more research vessels,” Roque said in a news conference.
The United Nations in 2012 awarded the Philippine Rise as an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf. The area is believed to be rich in oil and gas, but these remain untapped because of the Philippines’ lack of research capabilities.
Meanwhile, an “overwhelming” number of research, mostly conducted by American firms, was among the reasons Duterte ordered the closure of Philippine Rise to foreigners, Roque said.
Roque said Duterte, during the Cabinet meeting, stressed that “the only right that foreigners can exercise in the Philippine Rise is [of] innocent passage.”
“Exploration for natural resources, conduct of scientific research, laying of submarine cables and building of artificial islands in the Philippine Rise are reserved for Philippine nationals,” Roque said in a news conference.
Roque said the President was alarmed that “foreigners have been doing a lot of research [on Philippine Rise] and he noted that overwhelming number of researches have been, are undertaken by American firms whereas there were only two licenses given to Chinese firms.”
“So he has said that he will absolutely prohibit all the scientific researches in the area now. And when he said that it was not directed against China, it’s because as far as we know, China has only had two scientific researches in the area,” he added.
The President earlier issued an order that foreign researchers who wish to conduct studies in Benham Rise would need the permission of the National Security Adviser.
This followed criticism of the government for allowing China to explore the area despite its unresolved disputes with the Philippines over the South China Sea, resource-rich waters in the archipelago's west coast.