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No total ban on foreign scientific research in Benham Rise —Palace

Malacañang on Tuesday clarified that there is no total ban on foreign scientific research and exploration in Benham Rise despite President Rodrigo Duterte's order to stop foreign maritime scientific research in the area.

"Well, it's not really a ban. I guess it's just a directive that we want Filipinos to do it as much as possible, that we are reserving it for Filipinos," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said in a press briefing.

Roque said foreign entities can still apply for permit to do research in Benham Rise — a 13 million-hectare underwater plateau off Aurora province which is seen as a potential source of oil, natural gas and other marine resources — but they have to seek clearance from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon.

"Obviously, it's a national security issue," Roque said.

Esperon, for his part, said the government wants a review of the processes in requests for marine scientific research (MSR) in Philippine waters.

"We just want a restudy of the processes. Rerebyuhin lang namin kung papaano ba ginagawa yung MSR. Kelan sila mag-apply, gaano katagal 'yung processing, kelan sila magpapalagay ng scientists natin. Kelan ipa-publish 'yung resulta. Kailangan maliwanag nang sa ganun yung resources dyan ay optimized," he said on the sidelines of the 116th anniversary celebration of the Bureau of Customs in Manila

"It has been a process that has been ongoing and just like any process puwede mong i-review and hopefully gaganda 'yung process and hopefully mas maganda ang watch over natin sa Philippine Rise and sa extended continental shelf sa West Philippine Sea and all other domains of the Philippines," Esperon added.

Duterte has revoked the 30 licenses given to entities from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Germany, but Roque admitted that the researches conducted by these groups have already concluded.

Roque said the foreign researchers are required under the agreements to share their findings with Filipino counterparts.

Earlier in the day, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said Duterte, during Monday night's Cabinet meeting, ordered a stop to the maritime scientific research by foreigners in the Benham Rise, and directed the Department of National Defense to deploy Navy vessels and the Philippine Air Force to conduct fly overs in the area to check on the presence of foreign vessels.

Two vessels of the Department of Agriculture will also be dispatched to the Benham Rise to monitor the presence of foreign groups. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles will be flown from military bases east of Luzon to monitor the expanse of the Benham Rise, renamed Philippine Rise last year. —KBK, GMA News

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