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At Large

Philippine Rise and Manila Bay

Scientists based in the University of the Philippines bristled at the implication, voiced primarily by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, that the reason the government voiced no objections to Chinese exploration of Philippine (formerly Benham) Rise was that no Filipino scientists had the capability to carry out such studies.

At once the UP scientists pointed out that not only does expertise in such marine studies exist, some have already explored features of Philippine Rise and published these in scientific journals.

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The Chinese “studies” being undertaken in the area are controversial because Philippine Rise, despite clear indications that it lies within Philippine territory and, thus, sovereignty, is part of China’s claim over almost the entire South China Sea.

Some are also alarmed at the implications of allowing Chinese authorities to “explore” Philippine Rise, given that in similar incursions on islands in the marine area shared by the Philippines, China and other countries, the Chinese have gone way beyond just “exploration.” Aerial photos show extensive construction on the islands, including destruction of coral reefs. Suspicions are rife that the island construction is being done not just for scientific and commercial development but also for military purposes.

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Now comes news of another “foreign” incursion not way out in the South China Sea but in Manila Bay itself.

Geologist Kelvin Rodolfo, who has been raising his voice to protest further reclamation efforts in Manila Bay, recently wrote Neda Director General Ernesto
Pernia to express his “shock” at reading a news story in this paper titled “Dutch institute Deltares to lead crafting of Manila Bay blueprint.” Also addressed in Rodolfo’s letter are his colleagues in PAASE, or the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering, described in the group’s website as “a nonprofit organization of scientists and engineers of Philippine descent who seek to promote the advancement of science, engineering and technology.”

The story, says Rodolfo, “implies that we must rely on the Dutch in such matters, and must humbly defer to their expertise.” He quotes Pernia himself: “We are fortunate to have the Dutch with us in this endeavor. Their extensive knowledge and experience in implementing programs and projects that protect vulnerable coastal zones are unparalleled.”

Rodolfo begs to disagree. “The statement ignores the fact that we have a world-class Marine Science Institute at UP Diliman directed by PAASE member Ando Siringan, himself a long-time researcher on Manila Bay and an internationally respected authority on changes in sea level both in [the Philippines] and worldwide.” Besides this, says Rodolfo, the same institute “has many superb marine biologists with much more experience in Manila Bay than anyone else. If only the government would bother to consult and listen to them…”

The problem, Rodolfo implies, is the belief that foreigners are always more knowledgeable, more experienced, than Filipinos. “The fact that neither Ando nor any MSI [faculty] was present at the meeting with the Dutch ambassador is in keeping with our country’s colonial mentality. No matter how good Filipino scientists are, Dutch scientists, being foreign (and white?) are superior to us.”

Others might argue that the Dutch, who have over the centuries successfully kept the sea from inundating their low-lying lands, have a natural expertise on flooding. But while the Dutch have been reclaiming shallow sea floor for a long time, says Rodolfo, “they do not experience earthquakes, and so their engineers do not have to contend with the attendant enhanced ground shaking, liquefaction and tsunamis.” Besides which, despite their vaunted expertise, the Dutch have experienced having their dikes breached and “continue to spend billions of Guilders and Euros on improving their massive flood-control and anti-surge infrastructure.”

Recent developments like this, says Rodolfo, “make it sound as if reclamation plans are lutong macao.”

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TAGS: Harry Roque, Manila Bay, Philippine Rise, South China Sea, UP scientists
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