MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte ordered that all studies and exploration by foreign scientists in Benham Rise be put to a stop.
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said Duterte issued the order during the 22nd Cabinet meeting on Monday, February 5.
"President Rody Duterte last night ordered the cessation of all marine explorations and studies by foreign scientists and directed the Philippine Navy to 'chase out' any vessel fishing or conducting [research]," said Piñol in a Facebook post.
He quoted Duterte as saying, "Henceforth, only Filipino scientists will be allowed to conduct researches and exploration in the Philippine Rise."
However, later on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that while all licenses granted to foreign entities were revoked by Duterte, foreigners can still apply for Benham Rise research through a system that now has two additional steps: securing approvals from the Marine Scientific Research Technical Working Group and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Duterte also supposedly directed the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Air Force to monitor the area for foreign vessels.
According to Piñol, Duterte made the decision to "revoke" licenses for foreign studies in the 13-million-hectare continental shelf after a "foreign low-level diplomat" issued a statement that "the Philippines does not own the whole of the rise."
He was likely referring to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry saying Benham Rise cannot be claimed as part of Philippine national territory.
Roque then had said China was right to say this as, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines only has "sovereign rights" over Benham Rise but not sovereignty.
Sovereign rights is less than sovereignty but still gives the Philippines exclusive and superior rights over the area compared to other states.
The Philippines has the sovereign right to explore and exploit the oil, gas, and other mineral resources in Benham Rise.
Other states, however, have a right to conduct fishery research, surveys on water salinity and water currents, and depth soundings for navigational purposes. – Rappler.com
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 email@example.com.