By Camille A. Aguinaldo
CASIGURAN, Aurora — President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday declared portions of Philippine Rise a marine-protected area limited to Filipino scientific research, one year after he renamed Benham Rise in an executive order as Philippine Rise.
Mr. Duterte signed the presidential proclamation off the coast of Casiguran, Aurora, aboard BRP Davao Del Sur during the send-off ceremony for a team of Filipino scientists set to explore the underwater plateau until November.
“Around 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise shall become a strict protection zone limited to scientific studies. At this time, only Filipinos. More than 300 hectares shall be designated as special fisheries management area,” he said in his speech.
He also commemorated the first anniversary of Executive Order No. 25, issued on May 16, 2017, renaming the region Philippine Rise.
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), human activity is restricted in marine-protected areas to conserve natural resources found within the region.
The Northern Luzon Command (NoLCom) is also set to cast the first buoy and the Philippine flag marker at the region’s shallowest point called Benham Bank tomorrow.
Present in the ceremony were National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon, Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato Dela Pena, Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, and Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian.
After the send-off ceremony, Mr. Esperon, special assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence T. Go, and presidential son Sebastian Z. Duterte rode jetskis in Casiguran Bay.
Marine scientist Doralyn Dalisay from the University of San Agustin Iloilo said the all-Filipino team of scientists would explore the marine microbes and other organisms living in Philippine seafloors as well as study the geo-chemistry of Philippine Rise.
“We have to explore carefully the area so that we could competently manage and sustain it,” she told reporters.
Ms. Dalisay, who is also a Balik Scientist, said the marine microbes in Philippine Rise could possibly be used to create new medicines, antibiotics, anticancer compounds, and dengue or malaria cure.
“Our resources to do science is here. And so, we as Filipino scientists might as well do it as our own first. And if we are not capable, we could ask for help or collaborate with other countries to push more the science of the Philippine rise,” she said.
The Philippine Rise became part of the country’s continental shelf in 2012 following a ruling by the United Nations that the country has sovereign rights over the resource-rich underwater plateau off the country’s eastern coast.
The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) has planned to name the undersea features in Philippine Rise after Filipino indigenous and endemic tree species.
By Camille A. Aguinaldo