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On the Philippine Rise

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It used to be called the Benham Rise after its discoverer, Admiral Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham, an American. It is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 km east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela consisting of 24.4 million hectares dubbed as marine paradise as it lies under the migration path of important tuna species including the Pacific Bluefin tuna. Since 2012, the United Nations recognized the Benham Rise as part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone. In May 2017, owing to its importance, the area was designated as a world heritage site as President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 25 designating it as a “protected food supply exclusive zone” and renaming the region as Philippine Rise. Mining and oil exploration was also banned in the Benham Plateau as a protected area.
While it has not been noticed and unexplored for decades despite its size, Philippine Rise has become a center of controversy these days due to virtually virtual frantic efforts of China and several countries to do research in the vast region and presumably make plans to explore and make full use of its resources. Malacanang also was put to task for stating that Filipinos have no capability to do exploration in the region, unaware that many Filipino scientists and experts, including the government’s Department of Agriculture and its Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the University of the Philippines and the Philippine Navy, with support of the Oceana, the largest international ocean conservation and advocacy organization. No less than Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol ventured into region and even touted photos of their big catch of tuna during their trip there.
Now, Malacanang has changed its tune. Philippine Rise is open to all Filipinos and nations to do scientific exploration and study in the region but made it clear that there will be stricter rules to follow. "Because we have sovereign rights over Benham Rise, since it was awarded to us as an extended continental shelf, we have the right to exclusively explore and even conduct scientific research in it,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who is an international lawyer, adding  that the exclusive rights include "consent" if foreigners would also want to conduct research. "Whether they are Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, Singaporeans, et cetera, if they comply, we will approve. If they do not comply, we will not approve," stressed Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Caytano. The explorers, however, must share the results of their studies to the Philippine government and appropriate agencies.
It’s high time the Philippine government start studying ways to take advantage of the rich fish population of the Philippine Rise and its other assets to boost the economic growth of the country and for the Philippines to rise with it, but rules should be clear to avoid the experience in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

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