Press Release
March 30, 2017


Pinky: Senate Committee Chairman on Economic Affairs, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian. Thank you for being here Senator.

Sen Win: Thank you for inviting me.

Pinky: You're welcome. So, yesterday was the hearing of Benham Rise. One of the first questions asked was almost like a definition of terms in a way about Benham Rise. It was asked, is there any other claimant to Benham Rise? We just wanted to make sure that there are no other countries.

Sen Win: Yes. Right. We want to set the premise to make sure that information is the same and just to lay down the premise. There is still no any other claimant in that area and there is no potential claimant in that area as of now. It is a huge mass of land mass with 4 million hectares, as big as Luzon and Visayas combined. Potentially, it can be rich in gas, methane gas hydrates that can be used for future security purposes.

Pinky: So, at least, that was clear.

Sen Win: That was very clear.

Pinky: A lot of came up during that hearing. But, let us start way back when Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said there was a Chinese vessel supposedly criss-crossing on the Benham Rise for three months. Did that cause alarm? Something that raised alarm bells when you found that out?

Sen Win: Actually, it did. The first thing is, anong ginagawa ng ship doon? But, if you look at the information being given through media and also yesterday's hearing, I think the presence of the ship is consistent to what the Chinese government said that they are exercising the freedom of navigation. As what to our National Security adviser demonstrated yesterday, it is exercising freedom of navigation in that area. At the same time, the information is also incomplete because it did stay there for quite some time, and it did criss-cross, so, it was probably conducting also some form of research. But, if it is conducting very basically for example; water salinity, temperature, I think that is allowed under UNCLOS. That is the only information that we have.

Pinky: But what is clear to us is a Chinese vessel criss-cross, that is confirmed. It is confirmed that freedom of navigation is acceptable to you?

Sen Win: That is acceptable under UNCLOS Ships can pass there and exercise freedom of navigation within 200 nautical miles EEZ.

Pinky: Okay. You are comfortable with the fact that they could do a little research?

Sen Win: Under UNCLOS, they can do very basic research like for example, water salinity. As this ship passes, they can conduct very basic research and that's allowed under UNCLOS. I also have to disclose, this conversation happened after the hearing that this is actually a very busy ship lane area and it's not only China that passes through that area but also the Japanese, the Korean, from Australia, all the way to North Asia. So, this is actually a very busy shipping lane, maraming dumadaan dyan.

Pinky: I think that was the Coast Guard that also said that was a very busy lane. That's exactly what I wanted also to get across. Let us not put in our heads that this is a first time na nangyari ito. But, I think operative is the word for the criss-crossing. Doon medyo nagkaroon ng konting - Bakit nagki-criss-cross?

Sen Win: Apparently, it was also disclosed after the hearing. Some of the ships that were passing there also navigate differently. It's very difficult to conclude what the Chinese vessel is doing precisely because we don't have information. It was also disclosed during the hearing that we don't have the technology. Sana, sabi nga ni General Esperon, sana meron tayong satellite technology so that we can see exactly what the ship is doing and we don't have that for now.

Pinky: What do we have for now?

Sen Win: For now, I think we can track down the movement of the ship, and it was demonstrated yesterday by Gen. Esperon that the ship went inside easy, went outside easy, went up the north, and back.

Pinky: So, parang triangular?

Sen Win: Yes, parang triangular. It was disclosed yesterday and it was very clear. If we have that technology at kung sana meron tayong satellite, sana we can see exactly what type of ship and what the ship is doing.

Pinky: For the benefit of our viewers as well, how do we monitor? How did we monitor that like nang pumasok sa EEZ, lumabas, pumasok?

Sen Win: All of the ships are equipped with a navigation device and I think we have that technology that can track down all of those navigation devices.

Pinky: Coming from where? From whom? Is it the Navy?

Sen Win: Coast Guard. Yesterday, the representative of the Coast Guard was very staright-forward saying that this is a very busy area, and it's not only the Chinese that comes in and out there but several nationalities also.

Pinky: That was clear. We are so used to talking about South China Sea over here while hindi na natin napapansin ang east side which is where Benham Rise is. Here's a question, what is the difference between the freedom of navigation and innocent passage? Do you have a clear idea on that?

Sen Win: Innocent passage actually happens within a 12 nautical miles territorial waters and beyond that 12 nautical miles like 200 nautical miles EEZ is freedom of navigation. That's why ships that fly through different areas are allowed to exercise freedom of navigation under UNCLOS.

Pinky: What about what Secretary General Esperon was saying that you have the representative from the DFA but you did not have the secretary of the DFA?

Sen Win: It's really unfortunate that the Secretary of the Department of National Defense was not present and they sent us a letter late na nga to ask for an excuse because he needs clear up many many things because he was in the front line when all of this was happening.

Pinky: It came from him and it all started with the statement of Secretary Lorenzana.

Sen Win: Exactly. We have to get a clear picture what really happened in Benham Rise and also tie it up to what we are doing which is establishing a Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA).

Pinky: But, you didn't have a Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs as well but you have a representative.

Sen Win: Yes, we have a representative. Apparently, she's the maritime law expert of the DFA so sana rin, the Chief or the Secretary of Foreign Affairs was there to help enlighten this issue.

Pinky: One thing though that came out at least for me during that hearing was that the DFA was saying that there were request for marine research by China way back in 2015 but they were denied by the DFA.

Sen Win: Yes, twice.

Pinky: Did you hear about that prior to this hearing?

Sen Win: No. That's the first time I heard about it and the reason for the denial was when foreign ships undertake research here in our area, we mandate them to bring along Filipino researchers also to collect data and note those information we can use in our own research but in this case, I think there was a disagreement and they don't want to bring in Filipino scientists with them so the DFA denied them.

Pinky: But when they ask Senator for request for marine research, it's called MSR. Do you feel that, who is supposed to be on top of it? Is it just supposed to be the DFA? The Committee on the Senate needs to be informed? The President? What are the parameters?

Sen Win: Yes, Marine Science Research, very good question. In fact, I raised that question yesterday. Where is the starting point? DFA is the starting point, DFA is the clearing house, they apply through the DFA, the DFA coordinates with everyone, and it ends with the DFA. So, the DFA is really the clearing house for all of these types of Marine Science Research (MSR).

Pinky: But when you talk about coordinates with "everyone", who is "everyone"? Who should be "everyone"?

Sen Win: I would assume everyone that has something to do with Marine Science like DENR, UP, the Academe, members of the Academe. So, the principle here is we will accompany our scientists with them and the information that they will gather from that area, we can use it for our own. That is really the principle out of this.

Pinky: What about Senators? Should they be informed and their committees? Pero, parang ang dami na?

Sen Win: Yes, but I think, it can be. I think the Senate or Congress can request to be part of the research. We can be part of the research.

Pinky: Do you feel it's time now to have like an inter-agency because, you know, the South China Sea and now the Benham Rise has been on the headlines for quite a while Sir.

Sen Win: Alright. Well, that is the whole essence of this proposal by Senator Angara to establish Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA), really to have a coordinated authority or coordinated system in researching and exploring that area. Hindi pwede ang kanya-kanya, the DENR doing their own, the Academe is doing their own, the DND is doing their own, but what we want to achieve is holistic, sustainable development in that area.

Pinky: One of the problems would be the lack of funds? You talk about different people doing their different research with probably very few funds to work around? But, I wanted to go back to the permit, granted that the clearing is also the DFA, do you think it should be correct - do you feel that the President should be able to grant a request on his own without any of the stakeholders?

Sen Win: The President is the foreign architect. He is the chief policy maker. I don't know if the Foreign Affairs were present there but definitely the policy there is to conduct research by different countries and different entities, so that's the policy.

Pinky: So let me rephrase that, do you feel that the President has the authority to on his own allow research by other countries?

Sen. Win: I think he can enact policies, that's part of his mandate, to create policies for the betterment of the country. From that policy, to operationalizing it is the challenge now. That's why to be honest about it what I urged yesterday and consistently asked Gen. Esperon what are the mechanisms to operationalize it, because if your Chief Executive is saying this is the policy but the rest of the bureaucracy is not doing the same or not operationalizing then you will have confusion and inconsistencies.

Pinky: So it should start from them?

Sen. Win: it should start from them, that's why when these types of policies happen the whole bureaucracy should bethere to take note and move forward.

Pinky: Okay We're taking a short break this is the Source from CNN Philippines, when we come back we will continue the discussion on BR and the South China Sea, Senator Win Gatchalian will still be with us.

Pinky: you are watching the source on CNN Philippines our guest today is Sherwin Gatchalian, Senator let's talk about Benham Rise Development Authority, what can we expect from the Bill, the bill which was filed by Senator Angarra, Sonny Angarra--

Sen. Win: this authority will be chaired by the President, vice Chaired by NEDA and the reason why NEDA is the Vice Chair is we will now explore and exploit Benham Rise for the development of the country. Taking note that BR is rich in gas hydrates and gas hydrates will be the fuel of the future. The technology is not available right now but down the road, 10 years maybe 15 years this technology will be available and we can now use the gas hydrates to fuel our economy.

Pinky: Would you be in an agreement of some sort of research or development of Benham with another country?

Sen. Win: yes, definitely, we have the talent and knowledge and skill. The academe is full of very intelligent people. Ang problema natin we don't have the equipment and to buy those the minimum price we pay is about 1.5 Billion pesos for a small ship. It can go up as high as 4- 5 Billion pesos if you buy the more sophisticated ships. Yung mga ROV's that can dive 3,000 below sea level, we don't have that. Countries like Korea, Japan and even China is investing in this type of research, because research really brings in knowledge and value. So if you can merge their equipment and our talent then we can jointly conduct exploration in that area.

Jinky: Do you think it's time to conduct a joint explorations?

Sen. Win: we should, we should. In 2012 we were awarded by the UN the extended continental shelf. That's additional 11 million hectares to the BR. From 2012 until now, we haven't done anything yet--

Jinky: Well we were so busy with the South China Sea--

Sen. Win: Yes, everyone was so busy with the South China Sea but it's really about time to do research, basic research lang naman siguro, Marine Science Research to really know what's happening below and around the BR area.

Jinky: with the issue of the South China Sea, will you be open with a joint exploration of China on the other side which is the BR?

Sen. Win: I think these two should be t decoupled. I think the issue in the West Philippine Sea is really the issue of West Philippine Sea. BR clearly as China stated, they respect our sovereign rights in the area. That was an absolutely loud statement, we're also doing business with China and that should also be decoupled in the West Philippine Sea--

Jinky: So you are open?

Sen. Win: Yes, I'm open to any country--

Jinky: Would you have anyone in mind would be interested already to look into BR that you are confident for the Philippines to work with?

Sen. Win: according Prof. Jay Batongbacal, who is the foremost expert in marine science and international law. China, Japan and korea are the leading countries in terms of marine science. These are the countries that are really active doing marine science research in that area and I think those are the countries that should be a good partner for us.

Pinky: Okay, I'm going to shift topics though very quickly, one is just the South China Sea issue there's been construction that has been confirmed on three reefs in the Philippines, we're talking about Kagitingan, Zamora and Panganiban. What can be done about the other side?

Sen. Win: On the other side I think we should enforce our arbitral ruling. We should be consistent in terms of filing protest for whatever is happening in that area. We should use that ruling to our advantage. I'm quite pleased to hear from the President yesterday that he has not forgotten about this ruling and he will enforce ruling at one point in time. Foreign policy is about balancing. You have to think about the balance between external interests as well as national development and that's a very difficult balance. It's easier said than done. Our Chief-Executive should exercise caution and prudence when doing that foreign policy balance.

Pinky: But you have statements like "construction being done South China Sea or West Philippine Sea" and then you have Secretary Esperon who would say, "what can we do? What do you want to us to do? Attack the facility?" what kind of mindset or impression would that leave on Chinese who would hear our NSA Secretary saying that and to the Filipino people as well. In truth, ano ba talaga ang pwede natin gawin?

Sen. Win: I think for now, what we can effectively do is do the judicial process and enforce the arbitral ruling in this area. I think that's the most that we can do for now. I'm not saying we will not have that capability in the future but we can use what we have right now which is the arbitrary ruling that we got from the International Court, and that is really the advantage of the country--

Pinky: But what will the Philippines do when you have a country like China, already constructing there which is supposed to be ours? Yun lang? we're just supposed to keep on invoking our arbitrary rules?--

Sen. Win: we have to keep on invoking that, for a small country like us and for most small countries for this matter, that is the only logical strategy.

Pinky: Bilateral talks are set supposed to be sometime in May, if I'm not mistaken between the Philippines or in China, could that be a step toward the right direction?

Sen. Win: can be, can be. That's why the economic aspect of our relationship with China should be decoupled with the South China Sea. I think from this administration's perspective, we can take advantage of the proximity and market size of China. We cannot also ignore the fact that China is one of the fastest growing and second biggest economy in the whole world. Tourism, agriculture is a potential, instant potential in fact for the Philippines to take advantage. I think President Duterte is looking from that point of view.

Pinky: but does that make us look weak? Because we need China and everything, what you said Senator is as if we need China in terms of business, tourism, everything. Does that make us weak? We have a ruling that says--

Sen. Win: not exactly weak, our country should not be described as weak. We have a bilateral agreement with China, meaning they will also benefit from us and vice versa. For example, in terms of agriculture, we can send our bananas and mangoes and that is some sort of benefit also for them. We open up markets for them and they open up their markets for us. That should be considered mutual benefit for both of us.

Pinky: We're shifting topics again, the impeachment complaint against the President there is supposed to be a supplemental impeachment complaint over this BR issue and South China Sea by a Congressman Gary Alejano. What are your personal thoughts?

Sen. Win: I haven't read the complaint yet but it all boils down to evidence, it boils down in proving what impeachable offense the President committed. The burden of proof will be on the person who filed so it will be evidence-based.

Pinky: Do you think they have evidence? Right now, just looking at the first complaint filed, hindi po yung supplemental kasi di niyo pa nababasa.

Sen. Win: I haven't seen the extent really being presented, it's very hard to conclude. I was a Congressman before, I've seen these types of activities. When these type of cases enter into the Committee on Justice, you have politics there. It's a political process at the end but you also look at the evidence being thrown in and presented. That evidence can actually sway the members.

Pinky: You think Congressman will look at the evidence objectively considering there's a super majority in the House of Representatives?

Sen. Win: I think some who are part of the supermajority or part of a political party are independent thinkers, we cannot rule that out.

Pinky: What about rules to impeach, the possible impeachment of VP Leni Robredo? Tingin niyo ho ba this can prosper?

Sen. Win: actually as a principle, impeachment is a divisive exercise not only for Congressmen and Senators but also for the entire country. It's a very emotional exercise and I really want to see our top leaders working together more and moving forward and the entire bureaucracy moving forward.

Pinky: I'm just getting this vibe from you that you would rather not have a President and Vice President impeached?

Sen. Win: Exactly, I would rather talk about development and exploring and harnessing the potential of BR than spending a lot of time talking about impeachment.

Pinky: Thank you.

[end recording]

News Latest News Feed