Roque says remarks on Benham Rise research misunderstood

MANILA, Philippines – After his remarks caused outrage from international law experts and scientists, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque now says he never meant to say Filipinos can't conduct research on their own in Benham Rise.

In a statement sent to reporters on Thursday, January 25, he asked the public to understand the "entirety" of his remarks on Benham Rise.

When he had said "no one can do it," he was referring to Chinese scientists and not Filipinos, he claimed.

"I was referring to China when I said 'no one has applied and no one can do it, because, apparently, it’s capital-intensive,'" said Roque.

"I never said that Filipinos cannot conduct research in Benham Rise," he added.

However, referring to China in this instance would be absurd, as China has applied for and successfully obtained a permit to conduct Benham Rise research, and has already begun their research, proving they have the capital to do so.

Also, a recollection of the flow of questions during the January 23 press conference belies this.

When Roque made the statement, he was responding to a question specifically about whether or not Filipinos could conduct research in Benham Rise on their own.

The official transcript reads:

Q: Bakit daw po kailangan China pa iyong mag-conduct ng research? (Why do we need China to conduct the research?) 

SEC. ROQUE: Because only China has qualified so far. There are other applicants, unfortunately they did not qualify according to fixed guidelines already set by the government.

Q: Bakit daw po hindi Filipinos (Why not Filipinos), on our own? 

SEC. ROQUE: Because no one has [applied]. And no one can do it because, apparently, it’s capital intensive. You do not need a permit for any Filipino corporation to conduct scientific investigation in Benham Rise because it is ours so that’s not something that a consent has to be given by the government.

While Roque maintains it was "obvious" he was referring to Chinese scientists, news reports from various media outlets show all their reporters understood his remarks as referring to Filipinos.

Here are just some of the news articles about Roque's remarks:

Roque's remarks were taken as an insult by some Filipino scientists and experts on international maritime law.

Advocates of Science and Technology for the People or AGHAM said Roque's claim was "unfounded" as Filipino scientists were the first to explore the Benham bank, with most of the research funded by the government and some of them done in collaboration with foreign institutions.

International maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, after detailing all the Filipino-led research in Benham Rise, said that the lack of funds rendering Filipino scientists incapable of extensive research can be remedied by government funding and support. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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