Senate Bill No. 2024 / Committee Report No. 476
AN ACT CREATING THE PHILIPPINE RISE DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY (PRDA), DEFINING ITS POWERS AND FUNCTIONS, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES
Session Hall, Senate of the Philippines
September 19, 2018
Delivered by HON. WIN GATCHALIAN, Senator of the Republic:
Mr. President, my fellow senators, I bid you all a good afternoon.
One of the greatest blessings bestowed upon the Filipino people is the abundance of ecological diversity and natural wealth found throughout the islands and seas of the Philippines. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of many in advocating for the preservation and responsible development of these rich natural resources, the government has often fallen short in its task of safeguarding these treasures. These failures have resulted in the decline of our country’s natural wealth through unjust exploitation and, at times, pure negligence.
Thankfully, the Benham Rise – now known as the Philippine Rise – is not a story of strife and decline, but of cooperation and triumph. Since the beginning, the Philippine scientific community and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines have worked hand-in-hand to establish and solidify our claim to sovereign rights over this vast underwater plateau and the waters surrounding it. After 11 long years of scientific research and international legal advocacy, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf finally approved the claim of the Philippines in 2012 and recognized our sovereign rights over 13 million hectares of the Philippine Rise region as part of the Philippine Extended Continental Shelf. With 11.4 million hectares of the Rise already falling within our Exclusive Economic Zone, this brought the entire 24.4 million hectares of the Rise under our jurisdiction. For context, the land area of the entire island of Luzon is just under 10.5 million hectares.
Truly, the Philippines has been made richer by its successful claim over the Philippine Rise. The reefscapes and varieties of fish found in the shallower Benham Bank, and throughout the entire Philippine Rise region, are important for their contributions to marine biodiversity. This is significant not only for ecological purposes, but also for bioprospecting. Who knows, perhaps the next miracle drug to cure one of the world’s previously incurable diseases will be developed from biological resources found in the Philippine Rise. Meanwhile, the large volume of various tuna species found in the region showcases a huge potential for commercial fishing as well.
Last, but certainly not least, the seabed of the Philippine Rise holds a potentially massive treasure trove of rare and precious mineral resources, the most impactful of which may be methane gas hydrates. Methane gas hydrates, composed of natural gas encased in ice and usually found deep under the ocean in the seabed, are highly touted for their potential as the so-called “fuel of tomorrow”.
As the technology to exploit gas hydrates for commercial energy purposes develops over the next decade or two, the Philippines could eventually become an energy exporting powerhouse to rival even the most powerful oil-producing nations. That day could come sooner rather than later, as just last month an Israeli oil firm expressed to the Department of Energy its interest in exploring the potential of the gas hydrates found in the Rise. Lubos ang aking paniniwala na ang Philippine Rise ay magbibigay ng kasaganaan at maunlad na kabuhayan para sa susunod na henerasyon ng mga Pilipino — ito ay makakamit lamang kung mapangangalagaan ang ating likas-yaman.
With this in mind, Mr. President, I am proud to sponsor Senate Bill No. 2024, otherwise known as the Philippine Rise Development Authority Act. This measure takes a responsible, proactive, and forward-looking approach to developing the natural resources of the Philippine Rise by establishing the institutional mechanism needed to facilitate a coordinated and integrated approach to optimizing the full potential of the Philippine Rise, while conserving its ecology and resources for the benefit of future generations.
This institutional mechanism comes in the form of the Philippine Rise Development Authority – a coordinating, policymaking, and regulatory body which will serve as a sort of “one-stop-shop” for everything concerning the Philippine Rise. The 15-member Board of the PRDA will be chaired by the President of the Philippines and will include representatives from pertinent cabinet departments and technical agencies.
Significantly, Section 7 of the bill provides that no “proposals, plans, programs, projects or activities involving the Philippine Rise Region including, but not limited to, marine science research, exploration, and exploitation, whether conducted by Filipino and foreign nationals, shall be carried out…without the clearance of the Authority.” Since the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of National Defense, and the National Security Council are all represented on the Board of the Authority, we can be sure that the well-publicized past instances of unauthorized research in the area will not be repeated.
Aside from issuing clearances for activities in the Philippine Rise, the PRDA shall be tasked to conduct a wide range of activities including policy formulation and advocacy, coordination and support for scientific research and exploration, environmental protection, and investments promotions.
Mr. President, the numerous areas of interest to be covered by the PRDA further backs up the necessity of its creation. We say that this is a forward-looking piece of legislation because we are creating this institutional mechanism now, while the Philippine Rise remains pristine and undeveloped, so that we will be prepared to meet threats of ecological degradation and irresponsible development when they present themselves in later years. Patunay lamang na ang paglikha ng ahensya para sa Philippine Rise ay isang puhunan para sa napakalawak na benepisyo na mapakikinabangan ng bawat Pilipino sa hinaharap.
Mr. President, at this point, I would like to thank the authors of the original bills substituted by the measure reported out by the Committee on Economic Affairs: Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and my Seatmates – Senators Sonny Angara and Joel Villanueva. The road to finally sponsoring this bill on the floor is definitely longer than the others. It took the Committee on Economic Affairs three public hearings and one technical working group before we could finish crafting a substitute bill that will reflect both the intersecting and opposing opinions of our resource persons. After finally finding that middle ground we were looking for with the filing of this substitute bill, I hope the members of this chamber to join the sponsors of this measure in securing the swift passage of this unique and impactful piece of legislation.
Finally, I would like to mention that while attending the commemoration of the first anniversary of the renaming of the Philippine Rise at Casiguran Bay, off Aurora province last May 15, I was honored to have participated in the send-off of 50 of the best Filipino scientists who are now studying the resource-rich waters of the Rise. Inaalay natin ang panukalang batas na ito sa mga mahuhusay at makabayan nating siyentipiko.
Thank you, Mr. President.