In celebration of 2018 as the International Year of the Reef and May as Month of the Ocean, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) organized the “The Philippine Rise for Future Generations,” a Mabini Dialogue held on 15 May 2018 at the Ambassador Benedicto Room, Carlos P. Romulo Library, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Guest speaker Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, Vice President of Oceana Philippines, gave an overview of the importance of the Philippine Rise, possibly the only area in the Philippines that has a 100 percent coral cover, which serves as home to a very diverse marine flora and fauna. In 2016, scientists were able to record more than 170 species of fish in the area. The United Nations also declared the Philippine Rise as an Ecologically and Biologically Marine Significant Area (EBSA) during the 13th Meeting of the Convention of Parties (COP) to the Convention of Biological Diversity in 2016.
One of the threats in the Philippine Rise region is the unauthorized conduct of marine scientific research by foreign states. The need for more sources of fish and other marine resources may also result in other states’ illegal exploration and exploitation activities in the Philippine Rise. China’s naming of five sea mounts in the Philippine Rise demonstrates its interest in the area. Atty. Estenzo-Ramos highlighted that these challenges must be given ample attention by the government because the Philippines has sovereign rights over the area and the country needs to protect it.
The possibility of oil and gas exploration and deep-sea mining in the future is equally alarming. Atty. Estenzo-Ramos said that in June 2017, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced that the Philippine government has already allocated PHP 100 million to begin offshore mineral exploration in the area. There is a need for a comprehensive management plan before starting the exploration because these activities can cause severe damage to the area.
Despite these threats, Atty. Estenzo-Ramos is hopeful for the future of the Philippine Rise. Oceana, a non-government organization advocating for marine protection, continues to conduct information drive for students, fisherfolks, and ordinary citizens. Many civil society organizations also continue to lobby for the preservation of the Philippine Rise. They coordinate with government agencies and the Congress to create policies that will help protect the area.
Atty. Estenzo-Ramos highlighted three action points that can be done to protect and maintain the Philippine Rise: first, pushing for a Declaration of Benham Bank as a no-take zone through a presidential proclamation; second, conducting more research on the Philippine Rise, particularly on its biodiversity and connectivity to shallow-reef ecosystems; and lastly, formulating a comprehensive and science-based management plan for the protection and sustainable use of the Philippine Rise. [On 15 May 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a presidential proclamation that designates 49,684 hectares of the Philippine Rise as a protected area and another portion, measuring 300,000 hectares as a sustainable fishing area].
After the lecture, an exhibit on the Benham Bank at the DFA lobby was opened. The exhibit included a brief on the Philippine Rise and Benham Bank and a collection of photos of species discovered in the area.
The event was attended by officers and staff of the DFA, FSI, and other government agencies and members of the academe.