The Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has underscored Benham Rise's value as a potential major food source—so much so that the agency has advised the cessation of oil exploration in the area.
Benham Rise is a resource-rich area that spans some 13 million hectares—larger than the entire island of Luzon.
'I want to tell the President'
Following a scientific expedition to the area over the weekend, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) Sec. Emmanuel Piñol said that he plans to head straight to President Duterte to ask that all oil exploration be stopped.
"I want to tell the president that this should be declared as a 'no oil exploration zone.' Exclusive food zone ito; bawal muna," he said in an interview aired on GMA News' 24 Oras on Monday, May 8.
Piñol said that the recent scientific expedition to Benham Rise found a rich and diverse ecosystem that attracts migratory commercial fish like tuna, marlin, and mackerel.
He added that it is necessary to teach Filipino fishermen sustainable fishing practices.
A single blue fin tuna, for example, could fetch as much as P2,000 on the open market, according to Piñol.
Fish more valuable than gold
Piñol's sentiments were reiterated by Undersecretary for Fisheries and BFAR National Director Comdre. Eduardo Gongona in an interview on GMA News To Go.
"Hindi namin nire-recommend for the meantime na magkaroon ng oil exploration (sa Benham Rise). Fish are more important than gold because of their infinite renewability," Gongona told news anchor Howie Severino.
Gongona also said that the BFAR is mulling the establishment of sustainable fishing facilities in Benham Rise.
"Kailangan natin ng floating structures to cater to our fishermen... Maybe we can even have a helipad there and communications equipment," he said.
Ecosystem maintenance vital to sustainability
Gongona likewise said that maintaining Benham Rise's marine ecosystem is vital to ensuring the continued replenishment of the area's commercial fishes and other resources.
"Alagaan lang natin ang dagat natin, then (these can) generate income, employment, and economy-boosting activity," he said.
"Sana hindi maputol o ma-disturb ang coral formations dun sa ilalim kasi baka ma-disturb natin ang food chain ng mga migratory fishes na nandoon," he added.
China has no reason to be there
Gongona also downplayed the threat of encroachment and competition from China.
"When it comes to claiming that area, (China) has no reason to be there. In fact, China is not contesting that area," he said. — GMA News