CAGAYAN de Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez has asked Congress to declare a large part of the Philippine Rise (previously known as the Benham Rise), a vast undersea region east of Luzon, as a “protected area” so it could be managed and explored for its marine resources.
In House Bill (HB) No. 5687, Rodriguez proposed that the area known as Benham Bank and its neighboring waters be designated as a protected area to be known as the “Philippine Rise Marine Resource Reserve” under the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Law.
The bill indicates the geographic coordinates of Benham Bank, which is composed of 352,390 hectares. The Philippine Rise is believed to be more than 24 million hectares.
Rodriguez said most of the Philippine Rise, including Benham Bank, is within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
He said while the undersea region is 3,000 to 3,500 meters beneath the ocean’s surface, Benham Bank, the tallest seamount, is lying just 48-70 meters below the sea.
An all-Filipino group of research scientists discovered the proposed protected marine resource reserve in 2014, along with its diverse habitats and fish communities, he said.
He added that Filipinos actually do fishing activities in the area, “but the state of its habitats and biodiversity must be closely monitored to ensure the sustainability of the resources therein.”
“Monitoring and maintaining the high biodiversity and near pristine habitats in the Philippine Rise Marine Resource Reserve will contribute to sustainable fisheries productivity and ecosystem services for present and future generations of Filipinos,” Rodriguez stressed.
He noted that at present, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine National Police Maritime Group (PNP-MG), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are patrolling the area, protecting Filipino fishermen and enforcing fisheries laws.
He said aside from designating Benham Bank as a protected area, the bill would provide additional funds for these agencies.
“Most importantly, passing the bill is an exercise of Philippine sovereignty over our waters and the resources therein,” he said.
Under the measure, a Philippine Rise Marine Resource Protected Area Management Board would be created as the policy-making body for the management of Benham Bank.
The board is to be composed of the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); the chairpersons of the Senate committee on environment, natural resources and climate change and the House committee on natural resources; and representatives from BFAR, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of National Defense-Office of Civil Defense (DND-OCD), PNP Maritime Group, National Security Council (NSC), National Coast Watch Council Secretariat, Department of Foreign Affairs Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office, AFP, and PCG.
Four representatives from non-government organizations (NGOs) accredited by the DENR, four from academic institutions, and one from the private fishing sector would also sit on the board.
The bill enumerates prohibited activities in the proposed protected area, including poaching, dumping toxic waste, using destructive gear, and hindering law enforcement.
Proposed penalties for violators include fines of up to P5 million and imprisonment of up to six years.