MANILA — The Philippine government had ceased to be a lackey of any other state, Malacañang said Thursday following claims that it gave preferential treatment to China to conduct scientific research at the Benham Rise (now Philippine Rise).
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement rejecting critics’ assertion that there was a lack of transparency as the guidelines require Filipino researchers to be present with foreign researchers at all times.
“Mali po iyan na walang transparency. Kasi nga po wala namang research na walang kasamang Pilipino. So, hindi lang po tayo transparent, ni-require po natin sa guidelines na may kasamang Pilipino (It’s wrong to think that there’s no transparency, since no research has been conducted there without the presence of a Filipino. So, we’re not only transparent, we require, in our guidelines, that they be accompanied by a Filipino),” Roque said during a Palace briefing.
He also reiterated that it was clear that all results of foreign scientific research would be shared to Filipino researchers and assured that the government continues to assert its independent foreign policy as it was not willing to be “used” by other states.
“We are asserting an independent foreign policy. We are not giving out territory, we are protecting our sovereign rights and at the same time, we are doing the best that we can, given our state of preparedness,” Roque said.
“So, the difference is, we are not willing to be used by other states that want to challenge the dominance, alleged dominance of China in the region, because we have ceased to be a lackey of any other state. We stand on our own,” he added.
Reports showed that China has acknowledged that President Rodrigo R. Duterte wanted to halt foreign scientific research in the Philippine Rise in recognition of the sovereign rights of the Philippines.
Roque first announced Duterte’s order to revoke all licenses given to foreign researchers since all research has been concluded in the area.
Foreign researchers will now have to seek approval from the inter-agency technical working group and this time, also National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.
No preferential treatment
Esperon, in a separate statement, also denied that they gave China preferential treatment following Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano’s claim that it rejected the French Tara Expedition Foundation on a similar venture.
“The Philippine government gave no preferential treatment to China on its request to conduct maritime scientific research at Philippine Rise and did not reject the French Tara Expedition Foundation on similar venture, contrary to claims by a solon,” Esperon said.
He explained that the application of the French think tank to conduct scientific research was only in the internal waters of Taytay, Palawan, and was not intended for the Philippine Rise.
Moreover, he said the government did not act on the French scientific research request as it failed to comply with certain requirements provided by law.
According to Esperon, the French think tank wanted to conduct sampling or bio-prospecting of coral, which was prohibited under Wildlife Resources Conservation Act (Republic Act No. 9147).
Moreover, he said the French think tank was also rejected since they refused to allow the presence of Filipino scientists on board the research vessel since it was too small to accommodate additional passenger.
Esperon said Alejano merely wanted to hype the approval of China’s research in Philippine Rise to generate intrigue in the bilateral dynamics between the two countries.
Meanwhile, he assured that the government granted China’s license “without prejudice to the country’s territorial integrity”.