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Gov’t must do more than declare part of Philippine Rise as protected area — fishers’ group 

By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter

A PROPOSED law declaring a portion of the Philippine Rise as a protected zone is not enough to uphold the country’s territorial rights and maximize the potential resources in the area, a militant fishers’ group said.

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA), in a statement on Thursday, said the bill filed in the House of Representatives only covers 352,390 hectares, which is too small to account for the entire Philippine Rise.   

“Not even a quarter of the Philippine Rise would be covered by the protected area being sought by this House bill,” PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando L. Hicap said.

“Moreover, there is no definite plan what would be the next step after placing a scanty portion of the rise under protection,” he added.

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved the substitute measure to House Bill No. 36 or the Philippine Rise Marine Resource Reserve Act that seeks to declare a part of the Philippine Rise, formerly called the Benham Rise, as a protected area.   

The areas covered under the bill include the Benham Bank and its surrounding waters.   

Mr. Hicap said declaring a portion of the Philippine Rise as a protected area will discourage local commercial fishing vessels from venturing in the area but leave it exposed to foreign industrial fishing vessels.   

According to PAMALAKAYA, it was reported a few years ago that the Philippine Rise was frequented by foreign poachers from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, which were seen catching high-grade tuna.   

“It may be counterproductive for our domestic commercial fishing industry which would be prevented from undertaking fishing activities in our territorial waters while large-scale foreign fleets, which are unlikely to comply with our laws, would be exploiting our marine resources,” Mr. Hicap said.   

Mr. Hicap also called on the government to sponsor commercial fishing vessels that will venture and conduct fishing activities in the Philippine Rise.   

“To make the most of our marine and fishery resources, the government should seriously support our local fishing industry. For instance, it could commission our local fishing vessels that are capable of voyaging the Philippine Rise to conduct large-scale fishing expedition for domestic food needs,” he said.   

“Moreover, the government should develop our local marine scientific research to explore and utilize the untapped mineral and gas deposits in the Philippine Rise for our local industrial use,” he added.   

The Philippine Rise, located east of northern Philippines, is an area that has abundant marine species and untapped mineral resources and gas deposits.

In 2009, the Philippines filed a partial claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for Philippine Rise, which was approved three years after.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued an executive order in 2017 that renamed Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.