MANILA–The Philippine government has denied China’s requests to conduct marine scientific research in Benham Rise, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said.
Maria Lourdes Montero, acting executive director and officer-in-charge of the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office (MOAO) under the DFA, said applications were made in 2015 and 2016.
“In the past, we have received applications for marine scientific research in that area from China and we have consulted the technical agencies. And so far, with respect to the request referring to the Benham Rise area, we have received in 2016 and 2015, this request has been denied based on the consensus of the agencies involved,” Montero told the joint hearing by the Senate committees on finance and economic affairs.
“The usual reasons for the denial is the non-involvement of Filipino scientist in the conduct of marine scientific research,” Montero said, adding that the Philippine government requires Filipinos to be part of a foreign team that will study the Benham Rise, an undersea plateau 135 miles off the coast of Aurora.
However, Montero cannot confirm whether the entities who were denied to conduct the research were the same entities spotted in the mineral-rich area from November last year to January this year.
“I cannot speak with accuracy on the entity itself. I can only say accuracy with the state…[It’s] China,” she said.
The DFA, she said, has not yet established what the Chinese service ship spotted in the Benham Rise did in the area.
It was in 2012 when the Benham Rise officially became part of the Philippines after the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ruled that the area fell under the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
It is the DFA which usually grants applications to conduct research in the area, with coordination from technical agencies depending on the type of research.
But National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the President also has the power to grant such permit.
“From my point of view, I’d like to say that the exercise of giving permits can also be exercised by the President whether it’s done verbally or not,” he added.
Esperon explained that “better arrangements” are expected between the two countries after Duterte’s state visit in China last year.
Meanwhile, DFA Spokesman and Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said Manila and Beijing agreed in principle to have formal talks on how they will resolve disputes on West Philippine Sea.
“Right now, the two sides are discussing the specific dates in May for the meeting. No agreement yet on the agenda,” Jose stressed.