ONBOARD BRP DAVAO DEL SUR: President Rodrigo Duterte will still allow the “strict” enforcement of commercial fishing in the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) even after he declared the 13-million hectare undersea region a marine protected area.
Duterte made the remark on Tuesday, after he signed the proclamation during the sendoff ceremony for the 50 Filipino scientists who would conduct marine research in the underwater region off the coast of Aurora.
Under the proclamation, some 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise shall become a Strict Protection Zone limited to scientific studies, while 300,000 hectares shall be designated as a Special Fisheries Management Area.
In his speech, the President said the underwater region, where high-value pelagic species like mackerel and tuna abound, would still be available for commercial fishing in accordance with the laws on the preservation of marine life.
“We have to think of the future generations. There will be commercial fishing here but it will be done strictly in accordance with accepted principles of the preservation of marine life,” Duterte said.
“Baka ang mga anak natin wala na. You know just around the corner. Few years from now they will take over and we must guarantee to them that meron pa silang makain, meron pa silang isda na masarap. So we will strictly adhere to safety and the accepted principles of commercial fishing,” he added.
A marine protected area reduces human interaction with resources, thereby allowing the resources to replenish. Although marine protected area cannot address all problems in the marine resources, they help reduce some anthropogenic-related problems and may enhance the resiliency of marine stressors.
According to the Philippine Science Letters, in the Philippines, 1,620 locally managed marine protected areas have been established in the country as of 2011.
Prior the declaration of the underwater region as marine resource reserve, Duterte on May 16, 2017 renamed Benham Rise to Philippine Rise to assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights to the area.
In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf granted the Philippines’ submission to declare Philippine Rise as part of its extended continental shelf, granting Manila “sovereign rights” over the region.
No country, including China, is disputing the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the area.
But Duterte, also in his speech on Tuesday, insisted that the Philippines owned the Philippine Rise and that he was only copying China’s formula in asserting the country’s rights.
“Philippine Rise is ours. Basta amin ‘yun (That is ours no matter what),” the President said.
“Ngayon, ang Intsik na formula ginamit ko rin dito sa atin. Sabi ko rin dito sa atin (Now, I used the same Chinese formula here. I said), I did not make any distinction between sovereign rights and sovereign property,” he added.
The Philippine Rise is a natural submarine prolongation of the Luzon island up to 318 nautical miles from the Eastern Philippine Seaboard facing the Pacific Ocean.
The undersea plateau is comprised of the 200-nautical-miles continental shelf from the baselines of Luzon and the extension of the seabed and subsoil approximately up to 118 nautical miles beyond the legal continental shelf limits.
A 2014 research cruise by a group of Filipino scientist revealed that Benham Bank has at least 11-reef building, two solitary coral, and 62 fish species, making it an “important area for fisheries.” CATHERINE S. VALENTE