The government will invest in maritime survey ships that will be used to study the resources in Philippine Rise, an undersea plateau off the coast of Aurora province and part of the country’s continental shelf.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the purchase of the ships during a Cabinet meeting on Monday where he also reiterated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the area, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.
“The President and the Cabinet also noted that we should invest in maritime survey ships so that we could better assess the resources that we can exploit in the Philippine Rise,” Roque said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said funds were available for the purchase of the vessels, though Roque did not have details of the purchase plan.
But he described the plan as “solid.”
He also said there had been an initial proposal to use Malampaya funds to finance the purchase of the vessels, but this was shot down because of a Supreme Court ruling that the funds could be used only for energy-related projects.
The ruling stemmed from a case that Roque himself had filed.
During the Cabinet meeting, Mr. Duterte also reminded officials that foreigners could enjoy only the right of innocent passage through Philippine Rise.
“Exploration for natural resources, conduct of scientific research, laying of submarine cables and building of artificial islands in Philippine Rise are reserved for Philippine nationals,” Roque quoted the President as saying.
He said this was not prompted by any threat or attempted incursion, but the President’s observation that foreigners had been doing a lot of research in the area.
Mr. Duterte has prohibited foreign scientific research at Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise.