DFA vague on number of Benham Rise research requests

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released data on the number of requests to conduct marine scientific research (MSR) in Benham Rise and the Luzon Strait.

In a list provided to reporters on Wednesday, January 24, the DFA said the Philippines approved 13 MSR applications from the US, 2 from China, 9 from Japan, and 4 from Korea.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano also gave this information in an interview in Tarlac on Tuesday, January 23. 

The DFA shared with reporters the relevant part of this interview with the secretary of foreign affairs (SFA), describing it as the "transcription of SFA interview in Tarlac on Benham Rise (Philippine Rise) MSR applications."

The data from the DFA, however, is vague.

No data specific to Benham Rise

In the data they released, the DFA lumped together the MSR applications for both Benham Rise and the Luzon Strait.

These are two different areas, maritime expert Jay Batongbacal said. 

Rappler asked the DFA for data on the number of MSR applications separately for Benham Rise and for the Luzon Strait.

The DFA could not provide this breakdown as of posting time. There is no data specific to Benham Rise. 

Now Cayetano's statements have led to confusion.

Based on Cayetano's statements, the Philippine Star reported on Wednesday, January 24, that the Duterte administration "approved 13 applications from the US, 9 from Japan, and 4 from South Korea." 

CNN Philippines also reported that since 2000, the Philippine government "has approved 13 scientific research requests in Benham Rise from the US," 9 from Japan, and 4 from South Korea. 

This comes as the DFA draws flak for allowing China to do research in Benham Rise.

Below is the DFA's message to reporters, in unedited form, on Wednesday:

Sharing transcription of SFA interview in Tarlac on Benham Rise (Philippine Rise) MSR applications: 

SFA: There’s so much talk about why we allowed the Chinese. Let me share this information with you: The Americans have requested for 13 scientific research missions. We have approved 13. The Japanese have requested nine scientific research missions. We have approved nine. The Koreans have applied for four, we have approved four. The Chinese have applied for 18, we have approved two. So makikita mo na mas lamang ang Pilipinas kung lahat puwedeng mag-research doon. Hindi pa ito exploration o development. Pagka exploration, development, fisheries, papasok na diyan ang DA, papasok na DENR, papasok na ‘yung Department of Energy. This is scientific research. So as long as sundin nila pareho—Filipino scientist on board, and then data-sharing—papayagan natin. Why is it beneficial? Because if… parang dito sa Pampanga, Tarlac. Kung sabihin niyo, Globe [Telecom] lang ang puwedeng pumasok, e ‘di yung offer nila iba. Pero alam nila na puwede ang Smart [Communications], puwede ang third party, iba ‘yung offer nila, ‘di ba? So whether it’s protecting the environment or any sovereignty rights, meaning economic rights, in Benham Rise, Philippine Rise, it’s more advantageous to us na mas maraming mag-research. ‘Yung problema doon sa French trip, sabi nila mallit ‘yung ship, ‘di puwedeng sumakay ang Pilipino. Kung pinayagan nila at ‘yung ruta [ay] okay sa atin, pinayagan din natin.

Number of MSR Applications in Benham Rise (Philippine Rise) and Luzon Strait Areas (Year 2000-19 Jan 2018)

– Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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