Philippines to lift moratorium on foreign research ships in its waters

A Philippine Coast Guard ship sails along Benham Rise in this May 6, 2017 photo released by the Philippine Department of Agriculture-Agriculture and Fisheries Information Division. (AFP)
Updated 25 October 2019

Philippines to lift moratorium on foreign research ships in its waters

  • The ban on foreign scientific research last year focused on an area called the Benham Rise
  • The United Nations in 2012 declared Benham Rise part of the Philippines’ continental shelf

MANILA: The Philippines will lift a 2018 moratorium on foreign scientific research in its exclusive economic zone so it can exploit marine resources, the national security adviser said on Friday.
President Rodrigo Duterte banned all scientific research by foreigners off the Philippines’ Pacific coast in February last year and told the navy to chase away unauthorized vessels.
National security adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that allowing foreign governments and entities to conduct maritime research again is “good for us ... because we get to know more of the maritime domain.”
The Philippines is also beefing up its capabilities to enforce fisheries laws, Esperon said, with plans to acquire more coast guard assets and develop multi-purpose fishing vessels.
“Whatever we spend on defense should strengthen our position on developing our maritime domain especially the West Philippine Sea into what we call the blue economy,” Esperon told a media briefing.
Manila calls the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea.
Capitalizing on the so-called blue economy, such as using the oceans to generate energy, or tapping its oil and mineral resources, could help boost economic growth in the Philippines, where one-fifth of its 107 million people still live below the national poverty line.
The ban on foreign scientific research last year focused on an area called the Benham Rise, which the United Nations in 2012 declared part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
It is believed to be rich in biodiversity and tuna, and scientists from the United States and Japan have surveyed it numerous times.
However, Chinese interest has caused concern among Philippine nationalists mistrustful of its intentions after decades of disputes and perceived encroachments by Beijing in the South China Sea.
Before the moratorium, Esperon said “some institutions and entities,” came in without permission, while others did not allow Filipino scientists to board their vessels. He did not identify them.
This year, two Chinese research vessels were spotted lingering in Philippine-controlled waters, which became the subject of a diplomatic protest in August.
The Philippines has also protested the presence of more than 100 Chinese fishing vessels off Thitu a tiny island it holds near China’s militarized artificial island at Subi Reef.
China claims it has historic right of ownership to almost the entire South China Sea, despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling that said that claim had no legal basis under international law.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it.
Thitu island, the Philippines most strategic outpost in the South China Sea, is in the midst of major upgrades to its dilapidated facilities, Esperon said.


Philippines begins termination of US deal

Earlier, Duterte said he would give the US a month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2020

Philippines begins termination of US deal

  • The move comes after Washington’s refusal to issue a visa to ally of President Duterte

MANILA: The Philippines has started the process of terminating the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows the deployment of US forces to the country to conduct military exercises, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced on Friday.
The move comes one day after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to do away with the agreement if the US did not reinstate the visa of his political ally and former police chief, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
Although in a speech on Thursday night the president said he would give the US one month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa before terminating the VFA, Panelo told reporters the process had already begun.
“The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly,” he said, adding he had relayed the matter to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin.
Locsin, in a Twitter post on Friday, confirmed he had called Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “to start the process of terminating the VFA.”
Lorenzana, in a statement on Friday evening, said that he would discuss with the president “the various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA, and what future actions may be undertaken by the Department of National Defense (DND) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) regarding this matter.”
The defense chief said he could understand why the president was angered by the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, over alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the government’s anti-drug war.
“It is a direct affront to (the president) being the architect of the drug war upon his assumption of office,” the defense chief said.
He noted that Duterte ordered Dela Rosa when he was installed as police chief in 2016 to launch the drug war, and promised to back him. “He is just being true to his promise,” Lorenzana stressed.
Dela Rosa himself said details surrounding the revocation of his US visa remain unclear to him. He added that it “might be related” to the anti-drug war.
The Philippines Department of Justice said it was studying the “proper procedure to terminate the VFA.”
Responses from Philippine lawmakers have been mixed.
“In the absence of a Philippines Supreme Court ruling on the president’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA, without the consent of a 2/3 supermajority vote of the members of the senate, the president can do that without the senate’s approval or consent,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the VFA termination would work in favor of China, and so did not come as a surprise.
According to Lorenzana: “The termination of the VFA may be unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, and it is well within the right of the government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest.
“Such a termination does not need the approval of the Philippine Congress. All that is required is that a notice of termination be served to the US government. The termination shall take effect 180 days after the date of the notice,” the defense chief stressed.