PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte asserted on Tuesday Philippine sovereignty over the Philippines Rise, parts of which he declared as marine reserves by issuing a presidential proclamation.
Leading an expedition at the former Benham Rise, Duterte said the underwater feature, said to be rich in marine and natural gas resources, falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
As such, when it comes to the Philippine Rise, Duterte said he does not distinguish between sovereight rights and sovereign territory.
“I do not make any distinction. Basta umabot ‘yan ng [Exclusive] economic zone namin, amin ‘yan (when it’s within our EEZ it’s ours),” Duterte said.
The two-day event commemorates the first anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 25, which renamed Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.
“Last year I issued Executive Order No. 25 which renamed the erstwhile Benham Rise to the Philippine Rise,” said the President.
“Today I am issuing a presidential proclamation formally declaring parts of this undersea feature as a marine reserve,” he added.
Duterte said around 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise shall become a strictly protected zone limited to scientific studies to be conducted only by Filipinos at this time.
Duterte added that more than 300 hectares shall be designated as a “special fisheries management area.”
The President led the sendoff for some 50 Filipino scientists who were about to begin a six-month research in the Philippine Rise.
“Today we send off our team of talented and competent Filipino scientists who will undertake the coordinated national marine scientific research in the waters above the Philippine Rise,” Duterte said.
The scientists are set to conduct mapping surveys, biological investigations, and assessment of the coral reef and fishery stock until November.
He assured the scientists that the resources of the government were at their disposal.
The President stressed that the activities to be conducted by the scientists will be “vital to the protection and management of Philippine Rise and its vast resources.”
“I have complete faith in the capabilities of our world-class scientists and I recognize the need to provide them with the necessary means to fulfill [their] mandate.”
Duterte joked that he would give the scientists one boat each.
When the United Nations Commissioner on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the Philippines’ claim over the rise, Duterte pointed out that the country was “not just granted access to the vast resources” but was also “entrusted with the responsibility to protect it from abuse and misuse.”
After the program, Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go and presidential son Sebastian Duterte rode jet skis bearing the Philippine flag around Casiguran Bay to mark the country’s claim to the Philippine Rise.