MANILA — Following Malacañang’s pronouncement regarding the exploration of Philippine Rise (formerly known as Benham Rise), Senator Sonny Angara on Thursday called for the swift passage of his bill creating a lead agency that would oversee the conduct of scientific research and exploration of the undersea plateau.
The lawmaker said the lead agency would not only oversee the conduct of exploration of Philippine Rise but would also help secure the rights of the Philippines over the resource-rich area situated off the coast off Aurora, his home province.
“Mas mapapadali at mas magkakaroon ng koordinasyon sa pananaliksik ng Benham Rise kung may pangunahing ahensya na responsable dito. Higit sa lahat, mas masisiguro nito na mga Pilipino ang makikinabang sa mga benepisyo mula rito (The creation of an agency will ease coordination of research missions in Benham Rise. Furthermore, this will ensure that Filipinos will benefit from these activities),” he said.
“We should accelerate its development to optimize its full potential to be a rich source of alternative energy, marine resources, and as a possible tourism destination. This will spur economic activity in the area that will create jobs, especially for the locals,” Angara said.
The Philippine Rise is touted to have vast natural gas deposits and mineral resources, and is a natural breeding ground and habitat for several marine species.
On Wednesday, Malacanang announced that while President Rodrigo R. Duterte has declared that only Filipinos can now conduct scientific research in the area, foreign entities can still reapply for licenses for future research.
Under Angara’s Senate Bill 312, a Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA) would be created “to promote and facilitate the exploration and study of Benham Rise”.
The BRDA will act as the official and permanent lead agency of the government in coordinating the formulation and implementation of policies, programs and strategic direction for the sustainable development of Benham Rise.
As provided, donations, contributions and grants from foreign governments, international agencies and private entities, including official development assistance, to be used for such programs shall also be received and administered by BRDA.
The proposed measure, likewise, mandates the body to advocate national policies that will foster integrated and balanced development of Benham Rise.
Under the bill, there shall be a board of directors to be composed of the National Economic Development Authority director general as Chairman; and the BRDA Administrator, to be appointed by the President, as Vice Chairman.
Meanwhile, members of the board will include the respective secretaries of the departments of environment, energy, agriculture, science and technology, finance, and tourism, as well as three representatives of the private sector – one each from business, the academe, and non-governmental organizations.
SB 312 is pending at the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs. (PNA)