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Esperon: PH interests advanced by maritime scientific research.

By Hannah Torregoza

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. on Monday told the Senate committee on science and technology that it would be to the Philippines' national interest to encourage maritime scientific research (MSRs) in its own territorial waters.

Speaking at a Senate joint committee hearing on the maritime scientific studies conducted in the Philippine Rise--also called as Benham Rise--Esperon, said that the government stands to benefit in MSRs on its own territorial waters, be it done by local or foreign entities.

As chairman of the Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, Esperon said he "totally agrees" that the University of the Philippines Marine Scientific Institute (UP-MSI), and the Philippine Council for Aquatic, Agriculture and Natural Resources Research and Development and the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development Center "should conduct studies at the Philippine Rise and the West Philippine Sea to account for the aquatic, mineral and oil and gas deposits in the maritime territory."

"MSR should not even be confined to these entities, but any national government agency and state university that has statutory mandate to do research and development should be encouraged and supported to do MSR," Esperon told the committee chaired by Sen. Paolo (Bam) Aquino IV.

"The Philippines has a water area of 1,830 square kilometers and the coastline that stretches for 36,289 kilometers. For obvious reasons, it is about seven times our land territory. For obvious reasons, the country's maritime assets are as important as the land," Esperon said.

"Therefore, their sustainable development is included in our national plans and good stewardship over all the bodies of waters within the archipelago and the maritime reserves of which the Philippine is entitled under the UN convention of the law of the sea is a collective responsibility of all Filipinos," he stressed.

Esperon said the reason President Rodrigo Duterte decided to suspend all foreign MSR in the Philippine Rise was to allow the country "to take a pause because the public discussion on the MSR appears to be going in all directions."

"This would be unfortunate for the country, especially for our scientific community," he said.

But after meeting with Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Lourdes Yparraguirre, head of the technical working group that facilitates MSR applications, it became clear to him that "MSR is conducted for the benefit of all mankind."

"We already know that a diverse array of marine organisms is used for food, medicines, cosmetics and a wealth of other applications. The commercial development of marine organisms to be used for product will only continue, therefore subject to national interest, domestic and international laws, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), the Philippine maritime domain should be opened for MSR to both Filipino and foreign scientists," Esperon said.

"By doing so, the Philippines also improves its own capabilities to conduct MSR by joining or partnering with foreign scientists. The country could develop capabilities to exploit marine resources for pharmaceuticals, food and others," he said.

In an interview after the hearing, Esperon said the suspension on foreign MSRs still stands even though there are four pending applications--two French, one Russian and one from the United States..

Asked if China still has a pending application, he said there is none. "It might also be intentional on their part not to apply anymore because it is being politicized," Esperon said.

According to the security adviser, the government, over the years--from 2000 to 2018--has been hounded by MSR applications in both the Philippine Rise and the West Philippine Sea and other parts of the country's maritime domain.

He said the US filed 13 applications and the government permitted them to conduct 13 research activities. China also filed 18 but the inter-agency technical working group only approved two of their applications.

Japan also filed for nine MSRs and was given permits for all requests. The Republic of South Korea also applied for four MSRs and was given permits for the four applications. Germany, on the other hand, filed for two but was not given any permit.

Future foreign MSR applicants, he said, would be required to share whatever research, including specimens and samples, they garner with the government. Filipino scientists are also required to be on board the foreign ship conducting MSR.

Lawmakers earlier raised a howl after China successfully named five underwater features of the resource-rich underwater plateau at the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).


National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. during the Senate joint committee hearing on the maritime scientific studies conducted in the Philippine Rise on Monday. (Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN)
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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Feb 26, 2018
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