POSTSCRIPT / March 12, 2017 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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China now eyeing Pacific side of Phl

MALACAÑANG should not merely be concerned, but alarmed, that China – without bothering to get its permission — conducts oceanographic research in the Benham Rise continental shelf of the Philippines facing the Pacific Ocean.
Beijing’s sending its vessels snooping into the continental shelf of the Philippines is an offensive, unfriendly act. It should alarm even staunch Sinophiles in the Palace.
While conflicting claims of China and other neighbors on some maritime features west of the Philippines are somewhat complicated, the country’s ownership of the Benham Rise on the east side of Luzon is clear and indubitable.
As used in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the term continental shelf refers to the submerged prolongation of a coastal state’s land territory — the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to 200 nautical miles where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance. The continental margin consists of the seabed and subsoil of the shelf, the slope and the rise.
The continental shelf is treated as part of the adjoining country, if no other coastal state claims it. There are no other claimants to the resources-rich Benham Rise that, incidentally, is wider than Luzon, Samar and Leyte combined.
In 2012, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf recognized Philippine ownership of Benham Rise. (But China does not respect such rulings despite its being an UNCLOS signatory.)
Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare area extending some 250 kilometers eastward from the coast of Isabela and Aurora. From that line, the seabed does not drop precipitously to the ocean floor but gradually slopes down as a submerged extension of the coast. It is reportedly rising to emerge, in geological time, as a land mass connected to Luzon.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who harbors a healthy suspicion of trespassers, sounded the alert that Chinese vessels have widened their oceanographic surveys from the SCS to the Pacific.
The defense chief ordered the Navy to drive away the intruders and check reports that China has been looking for a parking area for its submarines. He cited satellite imagery documenting Chinese vessels’ operating in Benham Rise for three months last year.
China may have been emboldened by the timid reactions of Malacañang to its aggressive building of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea, and its militarizing them with airstrips, silos and missile batteries.
Not content with its military buildup in the South China Sea, Beijing now appears creeping into the Pacific where lie American bases in Guam, Hawaii and the US West Coast.
• On reclamation: Rubiato vs Rodolfo
WE SHARE this letter of Dr. Kelvin S. Rodolfo, professor emeritus of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago; and senior research fellow, Manila Observatory:
This is in response to the article “Bay reclamation” by Atty. Janilo E. Rubiato, general manager and CEO, Philippine Reclamation Authority (PhilStar, Mar. 7), rebutting the article “Bay reclamation: A treasure trove” by Mr. Federico D. Pascual Jr. (PhilStar, Feb. 21). Mr. Pascual was citing my colleagues’ and my scientific opinions.
Atty. Rubiato says “PRA acts as the primary regulatory agency of the government to assess the technical, environmental, financial and socio-economic merits of [reclamation] projects.” How can it possibly do this? Both Atty. Rubiato and Atty. Alberto Agra, the new board chairman, and five other lawyers constitute a majority of the PRA Board of Directors. The other directors are an electrical engineer, a historian, two accountants, and no marine scientists.
Very simply, the parent authority of PRA was created during Martial Law because Marcos assumed, with no scientific basis whatsoever, that sustainable reclamation is feasible in the Philippines. PRA’s sole reason for existing is to perpetuate that error by promoting reclamation. Its board has no reputable Filipino marine scientists simply because none thinks reclamation is a good idea. Ask anyone at UP Diliman’s Marine Science Institute.
Reclamation proponents are driven by potential massive profits, and ignore the very dangerous environmental hazards. Of course, numerous lawyers will come in handy if reclamations proceed and fail. Law is not about scientific truth, it is about obtaining legal advantage, regardless of the truth.
A good lawyer can make black sound white.  For example, Rubiato says “Adding land area to Metro Manila will address the problem of ‘urban sprawl’…”. To the contrary, reclamation enhances urban sprawl oceanward!
Rubiato’s lack of scientific training is betrayed by gobbledygook like “…Over extraction of ground water… is a consequence… of basement excavations of large basements” and “We are not aware of any studies that directly correlate land subsidence in Metro Manila with the reclamation projects in Manila Bay.” How can land subsidence be correlated with reclamation projects not yet built?
He says that “PRA requires project proponents to prepare and submit ‘flooding and flushing studies’ by hydrology experts… and detailed engineering studies before approving any reclamation project.” But PRA is not equipped to evaluate such studies properly.
In 2013, Goldcoast Development Authority presented a shoddy document simultaneously as an “Environmental Impact Statement” and “Environmental Impact Assessment” for Manila Solar City.
That absurd project, and all Philippine reclamation, were critiqued in a lengthy, profusely documented, peer-reviewed article in 2014 (Phil. Sci. Letters: “On the geological hazards that threaten existing and proposed reclamations of Manila Bay”). I invited rebuttal and commentary by proponents of reclamation, but received none.
On Feb. 8, 2016, this material was presented at the National Academy of Science and Technology Policy Discussion on the Hazards, Risks and Profits of Reclamation, and was corroborated by Dr. Fernando Siringan, Director of UP’s Marine Science Institute. Reclamation proponents offered no objections to our assertions.
This is a case of “Rubiato says, Rodolfo says”: Who can be trusted?
Mr. Rubiato is a lawyer, perhaps an excellent one. But he can claim no expertise in geology, engineering, or hazard mitigation. Mine includes a doctorate in marine geology and numerous peer-reviewed articles in that discipline in international journals, and many years in marine and natural-hazard research and teaching in the Philippines.
But by all means, don’t just trust me; seek out the opinion of other reputable marine scientists. There is too much at stake.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 12, 2017)

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