Press Release
August 15, 2011

After DENR budget hearing

Drilon: The total budget of DENR for 2012 is P16.990 billion. This is a 38% increase over the P12.2 billion budget for 2011. Except for some realignments that the DENR will submit to us in order to reflect a more precise prioritization of its programs, the total budget will be submitted for approval by the committee on finance to the plenary. The most critical information that the DENR gave to the committee is the possibility of increasing our territory from the present 30 million hectares to possibly 43 million ha, to include 13 million ha of what we call the Benham Plateau. The Benham Plateau will be recognized hopefully by next year by the United Nations as part of the Philippine territory and part of our continental shelf. The shallowest portion of the Benham Plateau is about 40 meters from the water line. This is about 1,000 ha of the 13,000 ha called the Benham Bank. The Philippines is the only claimant to this territory and Sec. Paje who has taken the lead of this will be going to the UN to argue the case for the Philippines.

Paje: The Benham is located in front Isabela, Aurora... that portion in the eastern seaboard. It is an extension of the Philippine continental shelf. We have submitted this claim in the UN under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea sometime late 2008 and we got the reply from the UN lately, saying that we have to answer some questions from them because they intend to pass a resolution sometime in the middle of 2012, approving this claim of continental shelf as part of the Philippine continental shelf.

Q: Why is Benham Rise relevant to us?

Paje: It is very relevant because of the mineral deposits, gas deposits that we can find therein.

Q: Confirmed yun sir?

Paje: Yes we have confirmed some gas deposits particularly. Our National Mapping and Resource Information Agency has given us the data that it contains solid methane, for now. We have not explored it, we can find it in the surface, we call it solid methane and this is very important to us.

Q: If we fast forward to 2012, what would be the first step toward exploring or exploiting the resources there?

Paje: I think we can later on issue contracts for this area to be explored, just like what we are doing in the western portion of our country, in the Reed Bank area. But dito po walang problema dahil walang claimants. Sa Pacific Ocean wala tayong neighbors halos and therefore our claim is quite exclusive in this area.

Q: Is this like the Malampaya?

Paje: Very much the same... It's a continental shelf. The land under the sea which we can explore later on for gas deposits.

Q: Kailan na-discover ito?

Paje: It was discovered by Mr. Benham, an American geologist, in 1933. But we were able to define categorically that it is attached to our continental shelf only recently. We have proven it under UNCLOS that it is attached to our continental shelf and we submitted our claim sometime in late 2008 and now UN is considering it for their decision sometime in the middle of 2012.

Q: Are we capable to explore kung ano man ang mineral deposits?

Paje: We can do it through operating agreement just like what we did in the Malampaya and the Reed Bank. It can be explored by the private sector later on.

Drilon: In other words, once it is established that this is part of the Philippine territory, then that provides us legal basis to enter into exploration agreements with private companies to explore possibilities of mineral resources, just like any exploration agreements with oil companies for possible oil deposits. Here, we understand that there is a possibility of solid methane being available, gas in solid form. Once our claim of dominion and ownership is confirmed, that will now provide the legal basis for the entry or execution of exploration agreements with private companies.

Q: Kailan na-discover na merong solid methane?

Paje: We have been doing what we call bathymetric studies in this area. NAMRIA has been tasked to do the baselines and basepoints of this country for the establishment of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone under UNCLOS. In addition to that, since we are able to do bathymetric study of the deposits under water... but not drilling, assessment lang ng continental shelf, we found out that there are solid nodules of methane.

Q: Last year po?

Paje: Mga 5 years na naming ginagawa.

Q: Mas marami ba ang deposits dito compared sa Spratlys?

We have to explore. We have to dig.

Q: Kung maglalabas ng resolution ang UN, since tayo lang ang claimant, are we expecting a favorable decision?

Paje: We have to go through the process but wala tayong conflict, hindi katulad sa western side na merong other claimants. Dito sa eastern seaboard which is Pacific Ocean, nandiyan ang Polilio Island, Infanta, Aurora kasunod niyan Hawaii na. Malayong malayo na yon.

Q: It takes 2-3 years talaga kahit walang conflict, ang proseso matagal?

Paje: Yes because ang problema mo commission. There's an UNCLOS Commission na nagmi-meet lamang almost every year. Kaya ang hinahabol namin yung meeting nila by June 2012, ma-settle na lahat ng questions nila so that when they meet in June 2012, ma resolve na nila yung claim natin.

Q: Kung may gas, may possibility bang may oil reserve sa ilalim?

Paje: The probability is very high because the nodules na nag solidify sa ibabaw ay dun din naman galing.

Q: What does this mean for us economically, in case lahat ng optimistic perceptions come true?

Paje: We have been saying this in the past that this country can provide for its own energy source, with the 200-mile EEZ that we have. We have 240 million ha now of water and continental shelf and 30 million ha of land. We have 200 miles to the Pacific, 200 miles sa South China Sea, 200 miles to the Sulu-Celebes, 200 miles to the north, pag kinuha mo yan that's around 240 million hectares. We believe that there is substantial deposit anywhere. Now we are exploring Sulu-Celebes. There are 2 companies exploring Sulu-Celebes Sea, 1 in Malampaya ang 1 in Reed Bank. With the deposits that we can find in Benham Rise, we can substantially supply the power for this country.

Q: ...In case tama ang hinala nyo?

Paje: In fact there is a possibility to export gas in the future. ASEAN has that plan already of connecting the ASEAN with pipelines.

Q: Yung distance from Isabela-Aurora area ay gaano kalayo?

Paje: By the way ang continental shelf ay dikit. It's actually attached to Luzon.

Q: Pag nakuha natin ang Benham, kailangan pa ba natin i-insist ang claim sa Spratlys?

Paje: This is very different from that claim. We are claiming it because of the UNCLOS, which is part and parcel of the continental shelf anyway.

Q: Yung 13 million ha, gaano kalaki yon?

Paje: This is bigger than Luzon, this is Luzon plus Samar and Leyte.

Q: You mentioned nahihirapan kayong mag cadastral survey sa ARMM?

Drilon: For the last 100 years, we could not complete the cadastral survey. It is a survey done so that you can have clear demarcations of titles, political boundaries in order that LGUs' share in IRA will be ascertained, lot surveys in order that the boundaries of private lot owners will be with certainty and the placing of what we commonly know as the mohon. 100 years passed by and we have still at this point about 5.6 million ha which have not been surveyed through a cadastral survey. You don't have boundaries, you cannot define clearly what are the boundaries in 5.6 million ha out of our total 30 million ha of jurisdiction of our country. For the first time, this administration is going to allocate under the DENR budget, P3.6 billion in order to complete the cadastral survey by 2013. This year, we are going to complete under this budget 3.1 million ha to be surveyed and the remaining 2.5 million ha will be completed in 2013, approximately 1 century after the first cadastral survey was conducted. This is very important because as we earlier explained, the boundaries of political units would determine the IRA. The boundaries for private lot owners are clearly necessary because of the overlapping of boundaries among private land owners. In fact, one of the difficulties that we are having now insofar as the titling of land is concerned is that you have no less than 5 agencies involved in land titling: Bureau of Lands, DAR, Natl Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), LRA, and the courts of law. These 5 agencies appear to be doing their own titling and therefore the possibility of overlapping of titles is always there. Of one particular concern would be the titles issued by the NCIP. The information of DENR is no less than 4 million ha have already been given titles under the IPRA Law, called certificates of ancestral domain titles. These are actually titles issued over what we call ancestral domain. The problem, as what the secretary has briefed us, is that in Baguio, there are already sales being made of titles covered by ancestral domain. In fact, it is prohibited to transfer these titles from one person to the other. What we have recommended to the DENR, in order to thresh out this problem which would require a law... that is why they are proposing a Land Administration Reform Act, pending enactment of this law, we are requesting the President to issue an executive order which will require other agencies to refrain from issuing titles in the mean time that we are threshing out this problem. According to the secretary, they will be engaging private companies in order to complete the surveying rather than hiring personnel in the DENR for this activity which is supposed to be finished by the end of 2013.

Q: Yung 5 million ha, nationwide?

Drilon: That's correct. For next year, land in 205 cities and municipalities nationwide.

Q: Isang century nang hindi natatapos, what has been hindering it?

Drilon: This is budget driven, meaning that if you don't provide the budget, you cannot do the survey. In the past, this has never been given attention by the previous administration that is why you have so many problems about land titling... so that the full faith and confidence of investors in our titling system is eroded by our failure to really complete the cadastral survey.

Q: To Sec. Paje, you mentioned yung surveyors sa ARMM ayaw nilang pumunta doon.

Paje: One, I think we will be able to find out somehow the misdeclaration of the areas there because the land area is very much related to IRA: the bigger the land area, the bigger the IRA. So there is a tendency for some LGUs to expand their area. If we will consider, for example, the submissions in some parts of Mindanao, the total hectarage of the Philippines is now 34 million ha, not 30 million ha.

Drilon: A survey can be done through an aerial photo. The problem in the ARMM is the actual placement of the boundary, the mohon. Naililipat yung mohon. The survey can be done without touching the ground. The problem is when you place the mohon, ang kaharap mo armalite so medyo nahihirapan.

Q: On Benham, you said PH can provide for its own energy source, can we probably be an oil exporter?

Paje: I think what we have will be mostly gas, not oil. The report of our geologist is that there are gas deposits. We believe it is better because it's cleaner than fossil fuel.

Drilon: Third major area in the DENR budget is the forest management operation. This is the reforestation program. We have the national greening program which is on its 2nd year. The allocation in the 2012 budget for reforestation is P4.9 billion, that's roughly 29% of the total budget of the DENR and represents a 27% increase over the 2011 budget. This is the 2nd year of the 6-year national greening program of the DENR and is the biggest reforestation program in our history. The goal is to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million ha for the next 6 years. That is about 28% more trees than what was planted for the past 50 years. For 2012 the DENR target is 77 million trees to be planted in 150,000 ha. As we talk today, 8 million ha of our forest lands are totally denuded. We have 15.8 million ha classified as forest lands, out of our 30 million ha for the entire country. The 6-year program would have a goal of replanting 1.5 million ha out of this 8 million ha which is totally degraded. The committee has required the DENR to submit a baseline: where are we today, through actual aerial pictures. On a yearly basis, we will now check the progress. For example the DENR will submit to us where the 150,000 ha to be planted with 77 million trees will be located and where are the nurseries where these 77 million trees will be sourced. All these data we will have in our data bank so that on a yearly basis, we will check with the DENR how far they have gone.

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