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.


Militants attack in Indian Kashmir as it locks down for anniversary

Updated 05 August 2020

Militants attack in Indian Kashmir as it locks down for anniversary

  • Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations
  • Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it

SRINAGAR, India: Militants attacked Indian security forces with a grenade and gunfire in Kashmir on Wednesday, defying a strict security lockdown on the first anniversary of the government’s scrapping of the disputed Himalayan region’s autonomy.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, police said.
Authorities blanketed Kashmir with troops, who laid out barbed wire and set up road blacks to prevent demonstrations a year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped India’s only Muslim-majority state of its special rights.
The government said the change was necessary to develop the strife-torn region and integrate it with the rest of India but it infuriated many Kashmiris and neighboring Pakistan.
Some critics saw it as part of a pattern by the Hindu-nationalist government aimed at sidelining Muslims. The government denies that.
Kashmir is claimed in full by India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. Militants have been fighting Indian rule in its part of Kashmir since 1989 in a conflict that has killed at least 50,000 dead, according to official figures.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was due to travel to the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir to mark the anniversary later on Wednesday.
He reiterated a long-standing Pakistani appeal for international intervention to help resolve the dispute over Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors that has bedevilled their ties since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
“It is imperative that the international community steps in immediately and backs its words of condemnation with practical steps that will force India to reverse its present course against the Kashmiri people,” he said in a statement.
India has ruled out any outside mediation over Kashmir.
In Srinagar, a handful of members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gathered at their headquarters to unfurl an Indian flag to mark the occasion. The party had long campaigned for ending Kashmir’s special status.
Party spokesman Altaf Thakur said similar celebrations took place in all district headquarters in the territory. “It is an important and historic day for our party,” Thakur told Reuters.
Elsewhere in Srinagar, police and paramilitary troops enforced the strictest lockdown for several months, stopping public movements, including a proposed meeting of politicians.
“One year later the authorities are still too afraid to allow us to meet, much less carry out any normal political activity. This fear speaks volumes about the true situation on the ground in Kashmir,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Twitter.
Last August’s change in status in Indian Kashmir was accompanied by a communication blackout, widespread restrictions and mass detentions, including of elected leaders.
Most of those measures have been eased, although Internet speeds are still restricted. More recently, many families have been confined indoors because of coronavirus lockdowns. (Additional reporting by Sheree Sardar in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)