THE BAN on foreign-led maritime research within the Philippine’s exclusive economic zones will soon be lifted by the government, National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr. announced on Friday.

“We are opening up again the MSR (marine scientific research) processing, permits for MSR simply because we believe that the academe have to be deployed and do research for us and for all of mankind to get to know more of our maritime domain,” he said at a briefing in Malacañang.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered a moratorium on foreign-led MSR last year after China registered with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) Chinese names for five underwater sea features in the Philippine Rise, also known as Benham Rise.

The matter was discussed by the two governments during a bilateral meeting in February 2018, wherein it was agreed that no further research would be undertaken by Chinese teams without permission from the Philippines.

On May 15, 2018, President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring parts of the Philippine Rise undersea feature as a Marine Resource Reserve.

Under the proclamation, around 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise have been designated as a Strict Protection Zone limited to scientific studies, while more than 300,000 hectares are assigned as a Special Fisheries Management Area.

On the same day, a team of Filipino scientists were sent off to undertake the Coordinated National Marine Scientific Research Initiatives and Related Activities (CONMIRA) in the waters above the Philippine Rise.

Mr. Esperon further explained that there were cases of MSR applicants who were not willing to have any Filipino scientist join their research mission.

“If they don’t allow us, then what benefit do we get out of it since they are supposed to deposit with us their findings as well as the materials?” he said.

Mr. Esperson also announced that they will be releasing soon an updated version of the 25-year old National Marine Policy (NMP), which directs the development of country’s marine resources and territory.

The updated NMP, he said, underscores the administration’s commitment to enforce maritime laws, carry out sustainable development, and pursue peaceful settlement in disputes. — Gillian M. Cortez