Wrong, ignorant and condescending
Words continue to fly over presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s claim that the Chinese have been given permission to explore Philippine Rise—a vast undersea plateau off Luzon that is indisputably Philippine territory according to the United Nations—because no Filipino can afford the undertaking or has the expertise for it. It’s an extraordinary statement, perhaps the most flabbergasting to come so far from the loquacious Roque’s ongoing stint as the chief interpreter-defender of Malacañang’s actions toward China.
Not only did the man claim that Filipinos are in no position to explore and exploit their own territory; he also said the controversial Chinese research program—which appeared to have been surreptitiously approved by the Palace and came to light only when Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano raised a ruckus about it—will give Filipinos “a better understanding of how we can better utilize the resources of Benham Rise.” That’s as condescending a remark at his fellow citizens as Roque could accomplish, seemingly reducing Filipinos to know-nothings fit only to await and receive knowledge and revelation from the superior, benevolent Chinese.
The blowback was justifiably swift and furious. In a Facebook post that has been widely shared, Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, forcefully called out Roque’s fallacious premise: “Presidential Spokesperson Roque’s claim that Filipinos cannot afford to explore Benham Rise, that ‘no one can do it,’ that the Philippines ‘needs China’ to do it, and ‘only China qualifies’ is completely wrong, based on ignorance, a serious disservice to Filipino scientists in particular and the Filipino people in general, and an over-exaggeration of China’s potential role in Philippine ocean sciences.”
Batongbacal pointed out that Filipino scientists have, in fact, made multiple expeditions to Philippine Rise since 2004, with the very findings of such research activities eventually becoming the foundation for the country’s claim to the area that was approved by the UN in 2012. Among the government agencies that spearheaded research efforts into Benham Rise, renamed Philippine Rise by President Duterte in 2017, were the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Department of Agriculture. Academic institutions also teamed up with the Philippine government in 2014 and 2016 to explore the area, the expeditions consisting of all-Filipino crews from scientists to marine students to divers and Navy and Coast guard personnel.
Thus, the “government’s denigration of Filipino scientists and Filipinos in general … is a total sham meant to disempower and demean Filipinos and their capacity and capability as a people,” wrote Batongbacal. “It makes Filipinos appear helpless, clueless and penniless on something already demonstrated they are not.”
The scientists’ group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, or Agham, also assailed Roque’s statement, and warned about “deceitful international activities that pose as research expeditions but are used to cover up schemes to exploit our country’s natural resources.” The inadequacy is not with the Filipino scientific community, Agham said, but in the government’s neglect of it: “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.”
Roque has subsequently explained that he was referring to the Chinese and not Filipinos in his statement. That explanation is as dumb and nonsensical as the previous one, and only further insults the Filipino public.
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