Philippine Daily Inquirer - - NEWS - By Maricar Cinco and Melvin Gascon @Team_In­quirer

Sci­en­tists, mar­itime law ex­perts and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups praised the gov­ern­ment’s move to de­clare a por­tion of Philip­pine Rise off Aurora prov­ince a marine re­serve, say­ing it was a laud­able ex­er­cise of ju­ris­dic­tion over the coun­try’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ).

The procla­ma­tion, signed by Pres­i­dent Duterte on Tues­day, des­ig­nated that part of the un­der­wa­ter plateau, for­merly called Ben­ham Rise, the first marine pro­tected area lo­cated within the Philip­pines’ 370-kilo­me­ter EEZ.

Aside from the Tub­bataha Reef, all other marine pro­tected ar­eas in the coun­try are lo­cated on the coast­line.

The Pres­i­dent’s procla­ma­tion was “good in the sense that the gov­ern­ment is com­ply­ing with its bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion com­mit­ment,” said Jay Ba­tong­ba­cal, di­rec­tor of the Uni­ver­sity of the Philip­pines (UP) In­sti­tute for Mar­itime Af­fairs and Law of the Sea.

“It is [also] a good ex­am­ple of ex­er­cis­ing ju­ris­dic­tion over the EEZ and con­ti­nen­tal shelf,” Ba­tong­ba­cal added.

Strict pro­tec­tion zone

The procla­ma­tion des­ig­nates 50,000 hectares of Philip­pine Rise a strict pro­tec­tion zone. It also sets aside 300,000 ha as a spe­cial fish­eries man­age­ment area.

The zone is closed to any hu­man ac­tiv­ity ex­cept for sci­en­tific re­search. Il­le­gal fish­ing and over­fish­ing would not be tol­er­ated within the fish­eries man­age­ment area, ac­cord­ing to Anal­iza Teh, the en­vi­ron­ment un­der­sec­re­tary for cli­mate change ser­vice and min­ing con­cerns.

Teh said the marine re­serve was a mere “1 per­cent” of the en­tire un­der­wa­ter re­gion that spans 13 mil­lion ha.

“One of the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions [for the procla­ma­tion] is the spec­tac­u­lar bio­di­ver­sity fea­ture of the area—al­most 100-per­cent coral cover, [which is] mor­pho­log­i­cally and bi­o­log­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant,” Teh said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Aurora prov­ince.

The de­clared marine re­serve is just a part of Ben­ham Bank, the shal­low­est por­tion of the seamount that sci­en­tists have so far reached since the Philip­pines was awarded sov­er­eign rights over the re­gion in 2012 un­der the UN Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (Un­c­los).

PH flag planted

De­fense of­fi­cials led cer­e­monies on Wed­nes­day to lay a Philip­pine flag un­der­wa­ter and de­ploy a buoy at Philip­pine Rise on the sixth an­niver­sary of the Un­c­los award.

In his speech read for him by De­fense Un­der­sec­re­tary Car­dozo Luna, De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana said the flag and the buoy were “our way of say­ing that there is no doubt that we will pro­tect and de­fend our na­tional sovereignty with all our might.”

The en­vi­ron­men­tal group, Oceana, on Thurs­day wel­comed the procla­ma­tion.

“With the procla­ma­tion, we, Filipinos must now take a bold stand to not just depend on [the] gov­ern­ment but take on mat­ters for the pro­tec­tion of Philip­pine Rise as our very own,” said lawyer Glo­ria Estenzo-Ramos, Oceana vice pres­i­dent.

Oceana has launched an on­line pe­ti­tion to de­clare the rise a pro­tected zone. It had drawn more than 26,300 sig­na­tures as of Thurs­day.

Pro­mot­ing con­ser­va­tion

“I sup­port the move [to de­clare it a marine re­serve] al­though some sec­tors feel it’s funny be­cause there is no is­sue about Philip­pine Rise, as com­pared to the re­gion west of the coun­try,” said Deci­bel Eslava, dean of UP Los Baños School of En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence and Man­age­ment.

Eslava was re­fer­ring to the con­flict­ing ter­ri­to­rial claims in the West Philip­pine Sea in­volv­ing China, Philip­pines, Viet­nam, Tai­wan, Malaysia and Brunei.

Teh said the ob­jec­tive of the procla­ma­tion was not to as­sert ter­ri­to­rial claim, “but rather pro­mote con­ser­va­tion.”

Mr. Duterte’s procla­ma­tion came two months after En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Roy Ci­matu lifted the sus­pen­sion of the grant of spe­cial per­mits for pri­vate use of pro­tected ar­eas, a move crit­i­cized by en­vi­ron­ment groups as an at­tempt to al­low big cor­po­ra­tions to ex­ploit the coun­try’s di­min­ish­ing nat­u­ral re­sources.


SEND-OFF CER­E­MONY Pres­i­dent Duterte with De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana, Spe­cial As­sis­tant to the Pres­i­dent Bong Go and Navy Chief Vice Adm. Robert Empe­drad dur­ing the send-off cer­e­mony for Filipino marine sci­ence re­searchers at Casig­u­ran Sound in Aurora prov­ince.

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