House bill to make Philippine Rise a protected area

A CONGRESSMAN has filed a bill that seeks to classify a large part of the Philippine Rise, a vast undersea region east of Luzon, as a protected area where unsustainable fishing will be banned.

House Bill 5687 will ensure high biodiversity and near pristine habitats at Benham Bank and its surrounding waters Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez said in a statement on Thursday.

This would contribute to sustainable fisheries “for present and future generations of Filipinos,” he added.

The bill seeks to create a Philippine Rise Marine Resource Protected Area Management Board to serve as the policy-making body for Benham Bank. 

The board will be composed of officials from the Environment department, the Senate and House of Representatives.  It will also include officials from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and National Economic and Development of Authority. 

Under the bill, poaching, dumping of hazardous wastes, the use of explosives and hindering law enforcement will be outlawed within the protected area.

Violators will be fined P5 million and jailed up to six years.

The Philippine Rise is an undersea region located east of northern Philippines. Most of the area is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone. 

In 2009, the Philippines filed a partial claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits Of the Continental Shelf for the Philippine Rise, which was approved three years after. 

Former President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued an order in 2017 that renamed Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.

Mr. Rodriguez said passing the bill would be an exercise of Philippine sovereignty over its waters and resources.

A similar bill was filed in the past Congress.

Pamalakaya, a fisherfolk group, had said declaring a portion of the Philippine Rise as a protected area would discourage local commercial fishing vessels from venturing in the area but leave it exposed to foreign industrial fishing vessels. — Matthew Carl L. Montecillo