MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte’s supposed jet ski ride on Benham Rise (Philippine Rise) did not push through on Tuesday and the chief executive also failed to reach the waters above the underwater plateau.
Duterte in late April announced he would visit the Philippine Rise to assert the country’s ownership of the area.
The president, however, only managed to reach Casiguran Bay off Aurora province while on board Navy ship BRP Davao del Sur. There, he sent off some 50 Filipino scientists who will study the resource-rich waters in the coming months. His chopper then left shortly before 6 p.m.
While Duterte’s failure to reach the Philippine Rise is seen by some as a breaking of his promise, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the president’s visit was still “symbolic.”
“Sapat naman itong ginawa ni Presidente Duterte at ipahayag ang polisya na ang tanging yaman ng Philippine Rise ay para sa mga Pilipino,” he said.
(What President Duterte did to lay down the policy that resources in the Philippine rise is exclusively for Filipinos was enough.)
Roque explained it would be a daunting task for the president to reach the Philippine Rise, located some 160 nautical miles off Luzon.
While the Palace also announced that Duterte would visit the Philippine Rise, it was never made clear whether the underwater plateau, or the waters above it, was the one it was really referring to.
“The Philippine Rise is actually beneath the sea so what we did today is symbolically showing our claim to the area,” Roque told reporters when asked why the president only made it to Casiguran Bay in Aurora.
“It is under the sea so you won’t see it unless you dive.”
The United Nations had in 2012 awarded Philippines Rise to the Philippines as an extension of its continental shelf. With the ruling, the country was granted “sovereign rights” over Benham Rise, which means the Philippines has the exclusive rights to explore and exploit resources there.
Duterte wanted to assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the Philippine Rise with his visit, but his critics were not that impressed.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, earlier said Benham Rise is not a contested area and that the government should instead work on asserting its rights on the South China Sea.
NO JET SKI RIDE
Duterte’s supposed jet ski ride on Benham Rise, as previously announced by Palace staff briefing the journalists for Tuesday’s coverage, also did not push through.
Duterte’s son Sebastian and top aide Christopher “Bong” Go instead rode jet skis just off the coast of Aurora. National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles joined them.
Presidential Security Group chief Lope Dagoy said the chief executive was advised against riding a jet ski.
“We advised him against it because it was too hot. It was not good for his health,” Dagoy said.
During the campaign for the 2016 elections, Duterte promised to ride a jet ski to the disputed Spratlys archipelago in South China Sea and plant a Philippine flag there.
He took it back, saying he was just exaggerating.
Duterte also vowed in 2017 to plant a Philippine flag in Pag-asa Island, the second largest naturally occurring island in the Spratlys archipelago, which is under Philippine control.
He would later take back this plan, saying he does not want to offend China, which has several artificial islands in the Spratlys.
Also during Tuesday’s event, Duterte signed a proclamation declaring a portion of the Philippine Rise as a marine protected area.
Duterte signed the proclamation providing for the declaration of 50,000 hectares of the underwater plateau, located east of Luzon, as a “strict protection zone limited to scientific studies.”
More than 300 hectares of the 13-million hectare area, meanwhile, will be designated as a special fisheries management area.
Meanwhile, the inter-agency Area Task Force-North will cast a buoy at the Philippine Rise on Wednesday, May 16, according to the Armed Forces’ Northern Luzon Command.
Nolcom said a flag-raising ceremony will also be held onboard BRP Tarlac, simultaneous with the laying of a flag marker by volunteer Filipino divers at Benham Bank, the Philippine Rise’s shallowest point. A fly-by of aircraft from different agencies will also be carried out.
The President earlier issued an order that foreign researchers who wish to conduct studies on the Philippine Rise would need the permission of the National Security Adviser.
This followed heavy criticism against the government for allowing China to explore the area despite its unresolved disputes with the Philippines over the South China Sea, resource-rich waters on the archipelago's west coast.
The Philippine Rise was also put on the spotlight after it was revealed that China has managed to name five features there following an unauthorized research trip in 2004.
The Philippines then said it would come up with its own names for the said features and also contest China’s move, even as it admitted it has no capacity to do expeditions similar to the ones undertaken by the Chinese.