International scientific undertakings should serve Filipino interest first
AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People denounces Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement that no Filipinos can do scientific research at the Benham Rise. This statement is an insult to Filipino scientists who have braved the deep oceans despite inadequate support and funding from the Philippine government. Roque should realize that it is through the efforts of our scientists in which we have continually strengthened our claim to disputed territories such as the Benham Rise.
Contrary to Roque’s unfounded pronouncement, Filipino scientists were in fact the first to explore the Benham bank. Most of these researches were funded by the Philippine government while some were done in collaboration with foreign institutions. There were already several research expeditions in the Benham Rise which includes the DENR-NAMRIA’s bathymetric and hydrographic survey; DA-BFAR’s fisheries research; UP National Institute of Geological Sciences’ seabed exploration to name a few.
Local scientists have documented in two expeditions in 2014 and in 2016 the rich biodiversity and potential in the Philippine Rise. Together with technical divers from the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard, scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the UP Marine Science Institute, the UP Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management, and Oceana, explored and documented the rich marine life found in the said area.
We have brilliant and patriotic scientists who are willing to study our natural resources and use such knowledge for national development. However, the lack of government funding and support has been a hindrance to maximizing the research potential of the country’s vast natural resources. Contrary to the Duterte government’s claims, this is not an issue of affordability, rather, it is an issue of lack of support and priority. Filipino scientists need support to conduct research in our rich territorial lands and waters. Instead of being servile to China in exchange for foreign aid, the government should support Filipino scientists to utilize the resources in our territories such as the Benham Rise towards national development.
While international scientific collaborations can work for the common good, we believe that these should be built on the principles of mutual respect, transparency, and equal participation of local scientists and foreign collaborators in every stage – from planning to publication. These should be conducted on the grounds of an independent foreign policy and ensuring that these investigations primarily serve Filipino interest. Such collaborations, be it research or exploration, should not trample our sovereignty and should not be subservient to the interests of other countries.
We should be wary of deceitful international activities that pose as research expeditions but are used to cover up schemes to exploit our country’s natural resources. As enshrined in the Constitution, these natural resources are part of our national patrimony and its utilization should primarily serve the Filipino people. The government should immediately terminate existing agreements that do not pass to these standards.
We call on our fellow Filipino scientists to belie the Duterte government false assertions and reject their shady deals. We urge them to join us in calling for greater government support for local research and development and persevere in our struggle to uphold our national sovereignty.#