The Philippine Rise: An untouched treasure

Map of the Luzon and Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) region. (Philippines' NAMRIA via Wikipedia)
Updated 21 May 2018
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The Philippine Rise: An untouched treasure

  • The Benham Bank exhibits a rich marine biodiversity. Its reefscapes contain corals, algae, sponges and Halimeda, which sustain a variety of fish. 
  • The UN approved the Philippines’ claim to the area in April 2012. On May 16, 2017, Duterte signed an order renaming it the Philippine Rise.

MANILA: A team of Filipino scientists last week sailed to the Philippine Rise, situated on the eastern side of the country, to explore unknown treasures in the resource-rich undersea region.

A ceremony was held on May 15 aboard the Philippine Navy’s amphibious landing dock vessel BRP Davao Del Sur. 

President Rodrigo Duterte led the send-off of the team, which will undertake the Coordinated National Marine Scientific Research Initiatives and Related Activities (CONMIRA).

Duterte was supposed to visit the Philippine Rise and ride a jet ski around the area, but instead he led a program aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur while it was docked in Casiguran Bay in Aurora province. 

The activity was to commemorate the awarding of the Benham Rise to the Philippines by a UN tribunal. 

The UN approved the Philippines’ claim to the area in April 2012. On May 16, 2017, Duterte signed an order renaming it the Philippine Rise.

He also signed a proclamation formally declaring parts of the undersea feature a marine resource reserve.

After Duterte left, a flotilla with the BRP Davao Del Sur sailed to the Philippine Rise. The flotilla included eight other ships.

A flag-raising ceremony was held on May 16 aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur, simultaneous with the laying of an underwater flag marker at the Benham Bank, the shallowest point in the Philippine Rise.

Gil Jacinto of the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines told Arab News that the two-day event raises awareness among government agencies and the Filipino people “about this part of the country that we have sovereign rights over,” and “the needed work by the scientific community.” 

He lauded Duterte’s commitment to support marine science research, adding that the Benham Bank contains a “very good coral cover” and “almost wall-to-wall carpeted corals.”

Jacinto said: “Studies related to tuna fisheries, biology and migration patterns can also be pursued.” 

Oceanographers want to understand physical processes, such as major currents and the movement of water from the Pacific to the eastern side of Luzon island all the way to Mindanao island.

“Our understanding of physical processes and features of the Pacific side can perhaps be useful in some of the models that project the trajectory and intensity of typhoons,” said Jacinto. 

“That’s of interest and perhaps of benefit not just to the Philippines but also in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea region.”

Scientists will also be looking at prospects for energy sources in the area, and the possibility of obtaining compounds on marine organisms that may benefit the medical and pharmaceutical fields.

“One thing I’m very glad about for this event is this part of the country is now in the mindsets of our people,” said Jacinto. “There’s so much that can be done here.”

The scientists opted to sail to the Philippine Rise instead of the West Philippine Sea because they can work in the area “relatively unimpeded,” whereas in the West Philippine Sea there are security issues due to maritime border disputes, he added. 

The Philippine Rise is a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau located some 250 km east of northern Luzon. 

Its original name came from American geologist Andrew Benham, who surveyed the area in the 1930s. 

The Benham Bank exhibits a rich marine biodiversity. Its reefscapes contain corals, algae, sponges and Halimeda, which sustain a variety of fish. 

Results of exploratory fishing suggest that the Philippine Rise yields the highest catch rate of tuna species compared with other areas of the country.

The Philippine Rise may also contain seabed resources such as cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts, and hydrothermal polymetallic sulphides that contain minerals used in the aerospace industry.

Experts have revealed vast deposits of methane hydrate in the area, believed to be a larger hydrocarbon resource than the world’s oil, gas and coal resources combined.


Pupils as young as 10 to be drug-tested in the Philippines

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Updated 13 min 16 sec ago
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Pupils as young as 10 to be drug-tested in the Philippines

  • Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino said it would push for drug tests in schools, which will cover teachers and pupils from Grade 4 upward.
  • The PDEA chief came out with the proposal following the recent arrest of a 10-year-old Grade 4 pupil allegedly using drugs, and of three teachers for committing drug-related offenses. 

MANILA: Critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s methods in his war on drugs now include the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), which on Thursday rejected a proposal to subject pupils as young as 10 to mandatory drug testing.

“We should not permit this to happen. Schools are no playground for 'tokhang,' said Raymond Basilio, ACT Philippines Secretary-General. 

“Tokhang” means to knock and plead, and it has been associated with Duterte’s allegedly “bloody drug war,” where policemen knock at the homes of known drug personalities and persuade them to surrender and stop their illegal activities.

Basilio made the statement after Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino said it would push for drug tests in schools. This will cover teachers and pupils from Grade 4 upward.

Aquino, however, said that the plan was still at “the study level,” adding that it also had to coordinate with the Department of Education (DepEd) and other government agencies.

The PDEA chief came out with the proposal following the recent arrest of a 10-year-old Grade 4 pupil allegedly using drugs, and of three teachers for committing drug-related offenses. 

PDEA’s proposal was met with criticisms from different groups.

In an email sent by ACT to Arab News, Basilio said that drug-testing would sow terror in schools, disturb the students and destroy the sanctity of schools as safe places for learning. Mandatory drug testing was also a violation of the rights of children and teachers, he said.

According to Basilio the government’s line of thinking is “very dangerous,” as apart from the drug test of nine- or ten-year-olds, a bill to decrease the age of criminal liability to the same level is pending in Congress.

“The state, which has the responsibility to protect our youth, apparently wants to make criminals out of them,” said Basilio. He said that the PDEA chief’s proposal was also an insult to teachers.

“This government should disabuse itself of its belief that we are a nation of drug addicts. What we are is a nation deep in economic crisis. It is where they should focus,” Basilio said.

Basilio said that the government will be wasting people’s money to test 20 million pupils and 700,000 teachers for drug use. “It should be dedicated instead to uplifting the quality of education and upgrading teachers’ salaries,” Basilio said.

Dr. Leticia Penano-Ho, a clinical psychologist and former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Education, also opposed the idea, saying it would be traumatic for children subjected to drug testing at a  young age.

Instead of suggesting drug tests for pupils, Penano-Ho told Arab News that the government should instead strengthen awareness and prevention in schools.

“They can do it in other ways instead of drug testing, which could be very traumatic for a child, aside from being unconstitutional. For employment purposes it’s OK but not for elementary pupils. Maybe for high school students, they can do it,” said Penano-Ho, former director of the ASEAN Training Center for Preventive Drug Education.

“There are ways by which teachers can identify (those using drugs). That’s why what PDEA should do with DDB really, is intensify drug awareness and drug prevention programs,” Penano-Ho said.

“They will be fearful, they will be suspicious. They don’t understand it, and they will not understand. How old is grade 4, 8 or 9? It’s going to be traumatic.”

She said that it could also affect children’s self-esteem because at an early age they were being suspected of committing a crime.

What the government could do, Penano-Ho said, is help teachers to develop more skills in being aware of what the indicators of drug use were. 

“So what we should do is do drug prevention in elementary schools instead of doing drug testing.”

“This government, they’re doing so much on the killing of the addicts. They’re not doing anything to prevent the young ones from becoming addicts. It’s what they should be doing,” Penano-Ho said.

Decoder

What is Tokhang?

“Tokhang” means to knock and plead, and it has been associated with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s allegedly “bloody drug war,” where policemen knock at the homes of known drug users and persuade them to surrender and stop their illegal activities.