A patriotic marker rests on a massive expanse of hard and soft corals in this photo taken during a marine expedition at Benham Rise on May 26, 2016. Oceana/UPLB, File photo
MANILA, Philippines — Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Wednesday called on the government to extend more support to the local marine science industry in order to improve the country’s capacity to explore the Benham Rise and other local waters without depending on aids from China and other countries.
“The government’s neglect of a scientific development deprives our local marine scientists and oceanographers to conduct research in the (Benham Rise). We don’t actually need China or any other country in exploring the potentials of our natural resources if the government is sincere in developing and maintaining our research facilities,” Pamalakaya chairman Fernando Hicap said in a statement.
Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare, resource-rich underwater plateau located opposite to the disputed South China Sea, has been declared as part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
President Rodrigo Duterte, through Executive Order No. 25 signed in May 2017, renamed Benham Rise to Philippine Rise to further assert the countries rights over the marine territory.
The Pamalakaya pointed out that the University of the Philippines College of Fisheries had once acquired three research vessels – Merchant Vessel (MV) Pampano, MV Albacore, and the Research Vessel (RV) Sardinella – which could have been used in exploring the Benham Rise, had they not succumbed to deterioration.
The MV Pampano which was acquired in 1962 was equipped with tuna long line and oceanographic equipment. The vessel also has radar and various electronic equipment such as fish finder, signal buoys, radio direction finder, among other. It had been utilized for training and research in different waters such as Celebes Sea, Sulu Sea, Visayan Sea, and the waters of Luzon.
While the RV Sardinella, acquired in 1981 was adequately equipped for deep-sea trawling, purse seining, and for research in marine sciences and oceanography.
“Unfortunately, these research vessels have not been maintained to maximize marine research and development,” the Pamalakaya said.
Meanwhile, the group also expressed doubt on the plan of the Dutch government to help in crafting the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan (MBSDMP).
The Pamalakaya said it has recently learned that the project profile for the MBSDMP includes reclamation activities and management of informal settlers.
The group that it could lead to total displacement of thousands of fishing families and urban poor settlers in Manila Bay and will advance the degradation of the Bay’s marine resources and ecology.
“Historically, massive reclamation projects in Manila Bay resulted to environmental and socio-economic disasters,” Hicap said.
“We are firm in our position to oppose reclamation or any destructive project in Manila Bay that will put not only the marine environment at risk, but also the livelihood of the fisherfolk. Instead, we call for genuine rehabilitation of Manila Bay through restoring the mangrove areas destroyed by previous government projects,” he added.