Duterte declares Philippine Rise as protected area limited for scientific studies by Filipinos only
President Rodrigo Duterte asserted on Tuesday of the Philippine rights over the Philippines Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise, as he declared it as a marine protected area and for use only of Filipino scientists.
The Chief Executive made the statement aboard the Navy's BRP Davao del Sur during his symbolic visit in Casiguran Bay in Aurora province, some miles away from the Philippine Rise.
"Today, I am issuing a presidential proclamation formally declaring parts of this undersea feature as a marine resource reserve...around 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise shall become a strict protection zone limited to scientific studies --- at this time only Filipinos," he said in a speech.
He added that more than 300,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise will be designated as a special fisheries management area.
"Philippine Rise is ours. I did not make any distinction between sovereign rights or a sovereign property. I just said it is ours," Duterte said.
During the event, which was also attended by the Cabinet members and military officers, Duterte led the sending off of Filipino scientists who would undertake the Coordinated National Marine Scientific Research Initiatives and Related Activities or CONMIRA in the waters above the Philippine Rise.
"I join the Filipino people in wishing you all the best as you embark on your mission to conduct mapping, surveys, biological investigations and assessment of the coral reef and fisheries stock in the area until November," he told the Filipino researchers.
Duterte initially said he would go to the Philippine Rise to assert the country's sovereign rights over the area even if was not a disputed place.
But on Tuesday's event, the President was flown by a chopper to the BRP Davao del Sur anchored in Casiguran Bay. He did not go to the Philippine Rise.
In an interview with reporters, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there was really no plan for the President to actually go to the Philippine Rise.
He said the trip to Philippine Rise via the BRP Davao del Sur would take probably a day.
"You see the Philippine Rise is beyond the 200 nautical miles EEZ (exclusive economic zone). So you have to go beyond 200 nautical miles, so the beginning of 200 miles is only the beginning of Philippine Rise...so it's not feasible basically to go there," he said, adding that the Philippine Rise is under the sea.
"So what we did today is just a symbolic assertion of what is ours," he explained.
Duterte has made the assertion of the Philippine rights over the Philippine Rise amid its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
The President reiterated that his administration is not giving up its rights over the South China Sea.
"As a matter of fact, we are still insisting now to the point that they are now willing...they are now offering for a joint exploration and development. He (Chinese President Xi Jinping) said may be you'll have a bigger share, let's see," he said.
Duterte has taken a softer stance towards China when he assumed office despite a decision of the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal invalidating China's sovereign rights over almost the entire South China Sea through its nine-dash line.
Duterte said when China started reclamation in the dispute waters, it was not during his presidency, but during the previous administration, which also filed the case against China before the arbitral tribunal.
China is now occupying artificial islands that it built in areas even within the Philippine EEZ in the South China Sea. It has put up military system in those reclaimed areas. Celerina Monte/DMS