Philippines to lift moratorium on foreign research ships in its waters

A Philippine Coast Guard ship sails along Benham Rise in this May 6, 2017 photo released by the Philippine Department of Agriculture-Agriculture and Fisheries Information Division. (AFP)
Updated 25 October 2019

Philippines to lift moratorium on foreign research ships in its waters

  • The ban on foreign scientific research last year focused on an area called the Benham Rise
  • The United Nations in 2012 declared Benham Rise part of the Philippines’ continental shelf

MANILA: The Philippines will lift a 2018 moratorium on foreign scientific research in its exclusive economic zone so it can exploit marine resources, the national security adviser said on Friday.
President Rodrigo Duterte banned all scientific research by foreigners off the Philippines’ Pacific coast in February last year and told the navy to chase away unauthorized vessels.
National security adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that allowing foreign governments and entities to conduct maritime research again is “good for us ... because we get to know more of the maritime domain.”
The Philippines is also beefing up its capabilities to enforce fisheries laws, Esperon said, with plans to acquire more coast guard assets and develop multi-purpose fishing vessels.
“Whatever we spend on defense should strengthen our position on developing our maritime domain especially the West Philippine Sea into what we call the blue economy,” Esperon told a media briefing.
Manila calls the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea.
Capitalizing on the so-called blue economy, such as using the oceans to generate energy, or tapping its oil and mineral resources, could help boost economic growth in the Philippines, where one-fifth of its 107 million people still live below the national poverty line.
The ban on foreign scientific research last year focused on an area called the Benham Rise, which the United Nations in 2012 declared part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
It is believed to be rich in biodiversity and tuna, and scientists from the United States and Japan have surveyed it numerous times.
However, Chinese interest has caused concern among Philippine nationalists mistrustful of its intentions after decades of disputes and perceived encroachments by Beijing in the South China Sea.
Before the moratorium, Esperon said “some institutions and entities,” came in without permission, while others did not allow Filipino scientists to board their vessels. He did not identify them.
This year, two Chinese research vessels were spotted lingering in Philippine-controlled waters, which became the subject of a diplomatic protest in August.
The Philippines has also protested the presence of more than 100 Chinese fishing vessels off Thitu a tiny island it holds near China’s militarized artificial island at Subi Reef.
China claims it has historic right of ownership to almost the entire South China Sea, despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling that said that claim had no legal basis under international law.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of it.
Thitu island, the Philippines most strategic outpost in the South China Sea, is in the midst of major upgrades to its dilapidated facilities, Esperon said.


Mali holds election despite coronavirus and insurgency

Updated 29 March 2020

Mali holds election despite coronavirus and insurgency

  • The coronavirus pandemic has posed a further threat to the vote but authorities in the West African nation have insisted it will go ahead
  • Polls opened on Sunday and turnout in the capital Bamako appeared low, a Reuters witness said

BAMAKO: Mali held its long-delayed parliamentary election on Sunday despite an insurgency in its central and northern regions, concerns about coronavirus and the recent kidnapping of the main opposition leader.

The election, originally scheduled for 2018, has been postponed twice because of intensifying violence in parts of Mali where the government struggles to suppress jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed a further threat to the vote but authorities in the West African nation have insisted it will go ahead, promising to enforce additional hygiene measures to protect Mali's 7.6 million voters.

"The government will do everything to make sure this is the case," President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in the run-up to the election.
Mali had confirmed 20 cases of coronavirus as of Sunday morning.

Polls opened on Sunday at 0800 and turnout in the capital Bamako appeared low, a Reuters witness said.

There was no queue at one polling station, which allowed voters to cast their ballot while keeping the recommended distance from each other. Handwashing facilities were meant to be available, but the kits arrived too late for early voters.

"I voted without a problem, but the hygiene kit against coronavirus wasn't there," said 30-year-old driver Ibrahim Konare. "The priority for the new parliament should be the fight against insecurity and the eradication of coronavirus."

It was not clear how voting was going in the large areas of central and northern Mali that are effectively lawless and used by the jihadists as a base for attacks in Mali and into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Mali's main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was ambushed last week while on the campaign trail in the northern region of Timbuktu. The attackers killed Cisse's bodyguard and took Cisse and six members of his delegation hostage. They have not been seen since.

The election will select 147 lawmakers for the national assembly, which has not had a mandate since 2018 because of the electoral delays.
Polling stations close at 1800 GMT with results due in the coming days. A second round is scheduled for April 19 in constituencies where no candidate wins a majority.

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