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Gatchalian spearheads Senate hearing on Benham Rise

BENHAM BANK, Philippines – A team of algae and fisheries experts, ecologists, microbiologists and oceanographers from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), UP Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management, UP Marine Science Institute, and Oceana studied the biophysical composition of the shallowest portion of the 13-million hectare Benham Rise underwater landmass east of Luzon, in a research expedition in 2016, as shown in this video screen grab. Image by OCEANA/UPLB

Senator Win Gatchalian has announced that the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs will be conducting a second public hearing on the Benham Rise to tackle defense and national security concerns in the wake of recent reports of suspicious Chinese activities in the area last year.

“We have found it prudent to conduct another hearing in order to paint a clearer picture of the facts as we explore long-term strategies to uphold and defend our sovereign rights over the Benham Rise,” said Gatchalian, the chairman of the economic affairs committee.

Gatchalian said he would ask representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of National Defense (DND) invited to the March 29 hearing to shed light on the details of the Chinese incursion into the area and any diplomatic exchanges between Philippine and Chinese officials on the matter.

However, Gatchalian stressed that the committee would use an objective approach in probing the matter to prevent the undue politicization of the important groundwork to be laid for the responsible stewardship of the resource-rich Benham Rise.

“The primary purpose of this hearing will be to craft a cohesive executive-legislative strategy for the long-term defense and development of the Benham Rise. If the political opposition is expecting a political fault-finding mission, then they will surely be disappointed,” Gatchalian said.

The hearing, to be conducted jointly by Gatchalian’s committee and the Committee on Finance, is a continuation of the March 7 hearing concerning Senate Bill No. 312, the Benham Rise Development Authority Act, authored by Senator Sonny Angara.

Aside from defense concerns, the hearing will also tackle issues concerning biodiversity conservation, as well as the management of marine and energy resources.

“There is an urgent need to conduct extensive scientific research in the Benham Rise to fully discover how its development will benefit the Filipino people. It will be a long-term process that will require considerable capacity building efforts on our part. These plans must be put into place now so that future generations of Filipinos will be able to reap the benefits of the area’s ecological wealth and unexplored energy resources,” said Gatchalian.