November 25, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

BFAR seeks extra P5B to protect Benham Rise

THE Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is pushing for the inclusion of additional funds to cover the protection and conservation of the 13-million hectare (ha) Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise.

BFAR submitted the proposed P5-billion allocation for the Philippine Rise, which lies to the east of northern Luzon, on Wednesday to the Department of Budget and Management during the technical committee hearing on the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) budgetary requirements for 2018, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said in his Facebook post on Thursday.

This will hike the DA’s proposed budget to P218 billion from the original P213 billion, which will mainly fund programs for greater food security and productivity.

“The proposed funding was a last-minute addition to the budgetary proposals as a result of the directive of President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte for government to protect and conserve the rich fishing area which is now being poached by foreign fishing vessels,” Mr. Piñol said.

The undersea feature formerly known as Benham Rise, a continental shelf located 250 kilometers off the northeast coast of Luzon recognized by the United States as within the Philippines’ economic zone, is believed to be potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits apart from its diverse marine ecosystem.

Chinese vessels were reportedly spotted conducting research activity in the area in March. Prior to this incident, Mr. Duterte has been working toward warmer relations with Beijing.

The initial budget will fund the establishment of a research and monitoring facility in the Benham Bank, a 15,000-ha area in the middle of the Philippine Rise which at a depth of 50 meters is considered the shallowest portion of the Rise.

The facility will serve as a “refuge” area for Coast Guard vessels and Filipino fisherfolk. It can accommodate helicopters and long-range drones deployed to monitor the area.

The proposal was a result of the Philippine Rise Expedition composed of scientists and government officials led by Mr. Piñol on May 5 to 7 to explore what could be done to protect and conserve the resource-rich grounds. -- Krista Angela M. Montealegre