The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has tightened the security around the Philippine Rise, formerly called Benham Rise.
PCG Spokesperson Capt. Armand Balilo said the government has deployed the multi-role response vessel BRP Suluan and the Islander aircraft, a propeller-driven plane, to patrol the area in tandem.
The vessels left Legazpi City in Albay province on Saturday, March 3 to conduct patrols around the resource-rich underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora province, which is part of the Philippine territory.
Balilo said the ship and the plane “would serve as our ‘eyes’ in the area.”
While foreigners may exercise freedom of navigation in the Philippine Rise, Balilo stressed that illegal activities in the area, such as unwarranted fishing and research activities, will not be tolerated.
“They would be allowed to pass but they would not be allowed to conduct any illegal activities in the area,” Balilo said.
In a press conference on Tuesday, March 6, Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the government is planning to procure new maritime research vessels to be used in exploring the Philippine Rise.
Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte gave the green light for the acquisition of ships during a Cabinet meeting on Monday, March 5.
“The president and the Cabinet also noted that we should invest in maritime survey ships so that we can better assess the resources that we can exploit in the Philippine Rise,” Roque told reporters.
According to him, there was an initial proposal to use the Malampaya funds to procure research vessels.
The proposal, however, was rejected due to possible legal questions, as the government’s share in royalties from the Malampaya gas facility “could only be utilized for energy-related projects.”
Despite this, Roque said the government has adequate funds to buy research vessels, citing assurance made Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III himself.
“It was Secretary Dominguez who said, ‘We have the money anyway, we’ll buy even if we don’t have to use Malampaya funds.’ So the government will buy more research vessels,” Roque said.
During the same meeting, Duterte also reaffirmed his earlier order to stop all foreign exploration in the Philippine Rise.
“The president reiterated that the only right that foreigners can exercise in the Philippine rise is the right to innocent passage,” the Palace official said. “Exploration for natural reassures, conduct of scientific research, laying of submarine cables, building of artificial islands are reserved for Philippine nationals.”