Senator Sonny Angara said the creation of a lead agency that would oversee the conduct of scientific research and exploration will help secure the rights of the Philippines over Benham Rise.
“Mas mapapadali at mas magkakaroon ng koordinasyon sa pananaliksik ng Benham Rise kung may pangunahing ahensya na responsable dito. Higit sa lahat, mas masisiguro nito na mga Pilipino ang makikinabang sa mga benepisyo mula rito,” Angara said.
Benham Rise, an undersea plateau off the coast of Aurora province, is touted to have vast natural gas deposits and mineral resources, and is a natural breeding ground and habitat for several marine species.
Malacañang has recently announced that while President Rodrigo Duterte has declared that only Filipinos can now conduct scientific research in Benham Rise, foreign entities can still reapply for licenses for future research.
Angara’s Senate Bill 312, now pending in the committee of economic affairs, seeks to create the Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA) that would promote and facilitate the exploration and study of Benham Rise.
“We should accelerate its development to optimize its full potential to be a rich source of alternative energy, marine resources, and as a possible tourism destination. This will spur economic activity in the area that would create jobs especially for the locals,” Angara said.
Furthermore, the BRDA will act as the official and permanent lead agency of the government in coordinating the formulation and implementation of policies, programs and strategic direction for the sustainable development of Benham Rise.
It shall also receive and administer donations, contributions and grants from foreign governments, international agencies and private entities, including ODA (official development assistance), to be used for such programs.
The proposed measure likewise mandates the body to advocate national policies that will foster integrated and balanced development of Benham Rise.
Under the bill, the board of directors will be composed of the NEDA Director General as Chairman; BRDA Administrator, to be appointed by the President, as Vice Chairman; and as members: secretaries of DENR, DOE, DA, DOST, DOF, DOT, and three representative from the private sector (business, academic and NGO sectors).