Tweaked process for foreign research in Benham Rise focuses on 'security' concerns

MANILA, Philippines – How different is the supposedly tweaked process for evaluating foreign research applications in Benham Rise (Philippine Rise)?

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr said the new process pays closer attention to "national security" concerns in foreign scientific research and exploration in the resource-rich continental shelf.

More agencies will be added to the Philippines' Marine Scientific Research Technical Working Group (MSR TWG) and a special consideration will be made for "national security" concerns, Esperon said in an interview with reporters on Tuesday, February 6, on the sidelines of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) anniversary.

"We will add more agencies that will look into it, adding for one the aspects of national security," he said.

Esperon added that the new process will ensure no such research is conducted in "sensitive areas" in Benham Rise.

This is part of the criteria the MSR TWG would look at when it assesses new applications for research by foreign entities.

"There are some compliances like they must be willing to have Filipino scientists on board, share the report, and it must not be in areas that are sensitive to us," said Esperon.

When asked what are considered "sensitive" areas, Esperon declined to expound, saying instead, "Just leave it to us."

Earlier on Tuesday, Malacañang announced that Duterte revoked all licenses given to foreign entities for Benham Rise research, although it also said all foreign research had already been concluded anyway by the time the President made the decision.

The Palace said foreign entities can reapply for a license under a new system that now requires the approval of the MSR TWG and Esperon. (READ: PH can ban China in Benham, but not other nations – Carpio)

Asked if the new system is meant to address certain fears the government may have about foreign research in Benham Rise, Esperon said, "We don't have fears about that. We simply follow what are provided in the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) provisions and international law."

Aside from those changes, the process for evaluating applications stays largely the same. Applications will still be filed with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and they must still be approved by the President. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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