Press Release
April 3, 2017

[WIN TRANSCRIPT] ANC Headstart w/ Karen Davila about Benham Rise, Impeachment, Maritime Disputes, Climate Change and Peso Rates

Live Interview

ANC: Headstart with Karen Davila

Benham Rise, Impeachment, Maritime Disputes, Climate Change and Peso Rates

ANC Studio Rockwell Bldg. Makati City

(start recording)

Q: Is it time to change Benham Rise to Philippine Rise?

Sen Win: Actually if you talk to our ordinary kababayans, they don't have a good idea where Benham Rise is, because it is relatively unexplored, relatively not researched yet, so marami sa ating mga kababayan, they don't know where Benham Rise is.

But having said that, there is no dispute in that area. The Philippines has complete jurisdiction over Benham Rise, all 24.4 million hectares of it. I think if there is a suggestion to rename it, I don't see anything wrong with it also, because we have done it with West Philippine Sea. Before it was called South China Sea but now they call it West Philippine Sea.

Q: If we rename Benham Rise, is there a certain process where President Duterte just has to say and declare that we are renaming it?

Sen Win: The best process is to conduct research first if we will violate any international laws. And then massive consultation in the Philippines, within our jurisdiction, to make sure that everyone understands the reason why we are changing the name.

Q: I want you to explain, because when they mention Benham Rise, they say it is undisputed, it is part of our Extended Continental Shelf. But it is not part of our EEZ? What does this mean?

Sen Win: Actually, it is part of our EEZ. Eleven (11) million hectares of Benham Rise is within our EEZ. Then 13 million hectares is part of our Extended Continental Shelf, so that is why it is 24 million hectares of Benham Rise. It is only the 13 million that is part of the extended continental shelf, which was awarded to us in 2012. Malaki itong area na ito. If you combine all 24 million hectares it is as big as Luzon and Visayas. It is a massive plateau underneath, and very few information or research were conducted in that area, basically unknown pa iyong area.

Q: Let's simplify it for our viewers. Does this mean that only the Philippines can take the resources in that 24 million hectares?

Sen Win: Yes, definitely. Within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone, plus the 130 extended continental shelf, we have exclusive sovereign rights to explore and to exploit the natural resources underneath.

Q: Meaning pwede tayong mangisda, we can look for oil?

Sen. Win: Actually the most interesting, most significant information that we found during the hearing is the presence of methane gas hydrates, this is the fuel of the future. It is not being used right now. Only Japan is extracting gas hydrates. But according to PNOC, this can be the fuel of the future, maybe 10 to 15 years from now.

Q: How did we find it?

Sen. Win: There are initial, very preliminary discoveries in that area, or researches in that area. That is why the suggestion of the PNOC is to undertake more in-depth exploration so we will exactly know how much we have in terms of gas hydrates. And we also have metals in that area. According to the DENR, they have discovered metals in the area, like nickel and iron ore which can be used for construction of buildings.

Q: During the Senate hearing, you had the DFA. And I had DFA Acting Secretary Manalo last week. The interesting part is, the situation in Benham Rise, according to SC Justice Carpio, is unique in the sense that many countries can actually pass through it, go through it, and survey it. They are allowed?

Sen. Win: Yes. Actually when I was talking with the Coast Guard, maraming dumadaan diyan, it is not only China. Australia, Japan, Korea. In fact I was watching a video last night when they sent off BRP Alcaraz, I think at the same time there was an Australian ship passing through that area. Maraming dumadaan diyan.

Unfortunately, we don't have the satellite technology to determine what those ships are doing. So, we can determine where they are going by their tracks, but we cannot determine what they are doing. That is why that incident happened. Of course they will invoke that they are exercising their freedom of navigation, but we don't know because we cannot see what they are doing in that area.

Q: Have you discussed in the Senate what exactly are the rules? Like for example, what is the inter-agency committee? When countries need to ask permission to go to Benham Rise, who do they write to?

Sen. Win: Just to lay down the premise, our National Security chief, Gen. Esperon, said that there is no national security threat with that incident because it was a research ship that came into our EEZ, our EEZ.

And because of the absence of a satellite technology, we don't know if they are conducting research. But if they will do basic research, for example water salinity or temperature, that is allowed. They don't need to get permission from us.

Q: But they need to have a Filipino scientist on board?

Sen. Win: If it's MSR, marine science research, which is quite the heavy type of research.

Q: Because you need to share info?

Sen. Win: Yes. Under UNCLOS, you need to share information, especially to our scientists. We have very good talent, magagaling ang scientists natin, but we do not have equipment. The essence of that concept is really to jointly conduct research in that area.

So, there is no national security threat in that area. However, I was also asking about the protocols. And I got the same answer as what you got from our secretary. It was not so clear whether protocols were breached in that incident because we don't know if they conducted exploration or if they conducted marine science research.

Q: But they rejected the request?

Sen. Win: The first 2. As I understand it, China has previous requests and they rejected it because our scientists were not allowed to join. But when they, again, conducted freedom of navigation within our EEZ, we don't know if they conducted basic research or more than basic research.

Q: Who is the inter-agency committee? Who do you write to?

Sen. Win: According to the DFA, they are clearinghouse for this type of activity. It starts with them and it ends with them.

Q: So it's them?

Sen. Win: It's them, it's DFA, according to that hearing.

Q: So, President Duterte can't allow China on his own?

Sen. Win: This was also echoed by our national security adviser: President Duterte as president, he is our chief foreign policy architect. And he can actually create new policies by his statements. The key here now is how do you cascade that policy all the way to the different departments. And that's where the challenge comes in. The President will create a policy, but to operationalize, that is the biggest challenge right now. That's why we have those confusions, those gaps.

Q: You don't shock people by saying 'oh the president allowed...' and then the people will say, 'did he?' Parang ganun...

Sen. Win: That's right. Actually, during that stage, there were a lot of confusions coming out from different agencies, from different secretaries, and I think that's where the problems came in. I asked Gen. Esperon kung may mechanism ba tayo, and obviously, the mechanism is weak because different people have different statements.

Q: You brought something. I want you to explain what this means to us.

Sen. Win: This was taken out of the hearing, and this was flashed in the hearing, and I think it also came out in the newspapers. If you notice, the yellow line is the research ship of China, it went through our EEZ. The good part here, hindi sila nag-explore in Benham Rise. They just passed through Benham Rise. But you can see some survey tacks here.

Q: So survey ito?

Sen. Win: In my own opinion, yes, because it crisscrosses. It goes around and definitely, it is surveying, doing some research but we don't know what type of research, and if it is within our EEZ.

Q: The ship is called Xian Yang Hong?

Sen. Win: Yes. It is a research ship by China. And China is investing in a lot of research equipment because they want to be the leader in terms of marine science research.

Q: The ship of China went from here all the way here. This type, they don't need permission?

Sen. Win: This one, they don't need permission but along the lines they might be conducting basic research so you don't need permission for that, but if you look at the area where it crisscrossed, definitely there were some form of activity. This is where the confusion comes in, this is where we seek the guidance of DFA weather this activity is research or plain freedom of navigation. During the hearing, DFA said they are still talking to China about this.

Q: Now China itself does not dispute the jurisdiction, sovereignty when it comes to Benham Rise so the key now is with us. Number one, you said when there is methane gas hydrates there, the criticism against the Philippines is, we ourselves have not really explored our own resources. Parang kayamanan na iniwan mo dun, kukunin na lang ng kapit-bahay?

Sen. Win: That hearing is very revealing. We haven't really explored this area, we also lack critical facilities. We don't have presence, we don't even have a coast guard. There was an intention to build critical facilities in the past but it never pushed through. Now, I believe the most important thing to do now is to build presence in that area, navy and coast guard. Our scientist are ready to go, they want to explore, they want to go there but we don't have the equipment to do that which is another issue we need to address.

Q: So what does the constitution when it comes to exploration? It cannot be a country to country contract?

Sen. Win: For exploration we can, but on our terms--

Q: On country to country but it cannot rejoint?

Sen. Win: it can be-

Q: joint country to country?

Sen. Win: It can be but it has to be on our terms because we don't have the equipment. We don't have, let's say a seismic survey ship. So we can actually sub-contract the operation. PNOC has done it in the past, sub-contract to a third party but difference is we own it and it should be on our terms.

Q: That's what I mean yung PNOC contracting it to a third party which is a private company? But can we do what was done during the time of President Arroyo, when there were joint talks between the Philippines and China?

Sen. Win: I think the key here is it should be in our terms and within our constitutional boundaries. We can undertake partnerships in research but it should be on our terms because it is within our EEZ.

Q: Now BRDA, what can that do?

Sen. Win: BRDA is an inter-agency with a direction of harnessing whatever we can get from Benham Rise and use it for national development.

Q: Who will be part of the agency?

Sen. Win: it will multi-departmental. The head will be NEDA, because they will be the lead agency for national development. That's why the idea here is to use the gas hydrates that we have discovered and harness it and use it for national development.

Q: So when is this going to be formed?

Sen. Win: Actually we are in the middle of discussing the BRDA, Senator Angara is the principal of BRDA. We are now brainstorming how to pursue it. The bottom line here is we both agree in the next few years that we really have to fund research. UP and a lot of our government institutions, they want to go there and conduct the research. We have the talent, the knowledge and intelligence to do it. However, we just lack the equipment which is where the government should come in.

Q: So yung BRDA it's safe to say within the year this will be formed?

Sen. Win: hopefully, to be honest about it may mga oppositions. I think the opposition stems from too much bureaucracy, adding another layer on the government system. That's why we need to address that to see if this is valid or not. In the hearing we all had good intentions, agreed that we need to do more activities there, defense or research purposes.

Q: What's more interesting is you are a supporter of President Duterte but didn't call on and say "let's allow China to bully us?"

Sen. Win: Well building in Scarborough Shoal will definitely create a lot of tension in the area. That's why have to exert our arbitrary ruling, we have a legal victory to exert in the area.

Q: So you believe in the upcoming talks? there is supposed to be a bilateral talk with China because of China. You believe that the DFA should already bring up the arbitrary ruling?

Sen. Win: From what I understand, I think this is the right time to bring this up and to talk about it. I don't think they'll reach anything with the talk, it's really preliminary but it should already be put into context. I think it's really time to bring it up and put that into context.

Q: What do you make of President Duterte's statement about their military? To bring it up over and over again?

Sen. Win: Well of course there's many ways to engage a country, military is one and economic but in this case we have the legal victory that we can use as our way to engage with China. Credits to the past administration for really engaging in giving us enough leverage to assert what is ours, so I think that should be part of the discussion.

Q: Does this damage any way what we already fought for? given that in six years the Philippines is heading another direction in terms of foreign policy? We're going north to south?

Sen. Win: Well for me, as a developing nation any support that we can get from anyone, weather its trade or economics we should welcome that. It is part of nation building, definitely there are complexities here and there but I think as a developing nation, we should really absorb whatever support we can get from the international community.

Q: When it comes to EDCA, you are supportive that it will continue?

Sen. Win: Yes, it enhances our own capability and capacity. In the past if you can see all the training that's happening in the DFA, you'll see that our fellow Filipinos are also benefiting from that. It's a two-way street, it gives regional stability in terms of geo-politics and at the same time it enhances our capability and that's what we need, we need all the support in terms of capacity building.

Q: An issue to an impeachment, threats against the Vice President, what can you say Sir?

Sen Win: The rally, for me, is really part of freedom of expression, freedom of speech, as long as it's conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner, talagang pinapayagan yan. But for me, impeachment is really divisive. Divisive inside the government institution, inside the Congress and the Senate, as well as the populace. At this time, we have so many things that we have to do, so many things that we have to achieve. For example, Benham Rise is actually a crown jewel that we haven't really touched and researched on. These are the things that I'd rather talk about.

Q: Okay. Now, you are also Chairman of Energy and also Economic Affairs. It was reported in early edition that the peso is the worst performing Asian currency against the US dollar. I mean, coming from President Aquino's time, wherein you saw the peso, I think it was at 45, now it's at 50? They say it might be closed to 52 at the end of the year.

Sen Win: Yes. but we have to take note that the US is raising interest rates. And when you raise interest rates in that part of the area, a lot of fund managers would rather bring their money there because it will gain more and it's a safe haven for a lot of the funds. It's really because of that incident, that's why there is a big depreciation of the peso.

Q: So, you feel that it has nothing to do essentially with how the President is handling the country?

Sen Win: I think, political risk is already been factored in. Even before the President assumed office, he was talking about the same things, his manner of communicating is the same, he never changed, his policies were the same, so that was already factored in almost 8 or 9 months ago. But, US is now raising interest rates, and there is also pronouncement that they will further raise it in the next few months so this is actually the biggest cause why depreciation is happening right now.

Q: Another interesting is recently, US President Donald Trump was actually reversing former President Barack Obama's regulation when it came to coal. Imagine, now, you can actually use federal lands for putting up coal plants, you can have more contracts on coal. Does this affect us in any way?

Sen Win: It does, especially with the COP21 which we ratified before.

Q: Okay. How?

Sen Win: First, the US is the biggest emitter. At the same time, funding that COP21 will also come from the US. Now, it's uncertain whether they will continue with the funds. They already pledge to put money in the global climate fund that will help third world countries like us to fight climate change. But now, with policies changed, we don't know if they will continue to put money. In fact, the whole essence of climate change in the US is totally and completely changed. So, it's uncertain. The whole world is moving in to fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. India, which is the third biggest emitters, is also curbing on the use of coals.

Q: Even China?

Sen Win: Even China. They will be the biggest user of solar panels in the next five to seven years. That is the general trend, but, US is now backtracking the other way and this is something that we need to watch out carefully.

Q: So, what you are telling us is, the reason partly why the Philippines agreed to a seventy percent reduction with our own emissions is for us to be able to source the fund?

Sen Win: Well, that's part of the reason, to really access that fund and to fight our own greenhouse gas emissions. But we have to also say that it's also part of being with the International Global Community. Being a citizen of a global community, you also need to fight climate change and to fight greenhouse gas emissions on your own. Hindi lang yung monetary incentive, but also because of your conscience.

Q: But, the way that the power profile is going in the Philippines, do you think we'll be able to fulfill the seventy percent honestly? I asked Undersecretary Fuentebella on Headstart, and he said mahihirapan.

Sen Win: Mahihirapan, yes. But, we have to look at we have. all the mechanisms are in place already. For example, we have the RE Law in place. RE Law, has its very diverse mechanisms in fighting climate change to greenhouse gas emissions. We have programs such as the planting of trees, a massive tree planting activity is heavily funded, 3 billion, if I'm not mistaken. Every year is being put to plant trees and fight climate change. All of these mechanisms were already in place or these strategies are already in place. Now, this is where the balancing act will come in.

Q: But then, we're also a country that, I'll be honest ha, we're encouraging the use of cars for 2020.

Sen Win: This is where the strategy and balancing act will come in, that's why the horizon should be a little longer in order to consider our economic growth and the requirement for affordable electricity.

Q: So, very quickly, when Pnoy left office, I think he signed 23 coal contracts, you support all the 23?

Sen Win: It's already there. I support in terms of having enough supply of power in our system but I also support the other cleaner source of energy. For example, hydropower plant, we can generate as much as 10,000 megawatts in hydropower plant. With geothermal, we can generate as much as 4,000 additional megawatts in the next ten years. Until 2030, we will need at least 12,000 megawatts of additional power. With hydro and geothermal can already power the requirement.

Q: But, when it comes to Malampaya, for example, I think Malampaya, we get 2,000 megawatts?

Sen Win: 2,700 megawatts.

Q: 2,700 and it powers Luzon? And it's only until 2020?

Sen Win: It's only until 2024.

Q: 2024. So, ito yong tanong, after Malampaya, where do we go? That's Benham Rise and EEZ?

Sen Win: Can be. The strategy there is to replace the gas with another form sana which is renewable energy, or with this type of hydro, as well as geothermal. But, the other strategy also is to import gas because gas is also quite cheap right now and we don't have an importing terminal to bring in natural gas to our system--

Q: So, what do we do kapag ganoon? We build the terminal? A physical terminal?

Sen Win: Yes, we build a terminal, a physical terminal. A floating terminal or a land-based terminal but it should be a part of our strategy because gas is cheaper now. It's a flexible system and can be used for any type of necessities.

Q: And a private company is going to get the contract? That's a lot of money.

Sen Win: That's a lot of money, minimum is one million dollars to invest in terminals. But, we need to think of the future. With all of these fuel sources, it gives us the flexibility now to strategize. So, I would really recommend that a terminal should be built and natural gas should be a part of our strategy.

Q: There was a period in time that we were exploring Recto Bank, Reed bank which became Recto Bank. What happened to that?

Sen Win: That's part of the disputed areas.

Q: Di ba that's part of the EEZ?

Sen Win: That's part of the EEZ where China has a claim.

Q: Yes, but if it's already declared as our EEZ, ang tanong ko, shouldn't we already start exploring?

Sen Win: There's a claim right now, and there's a moratorium by the DOE because of that claim.

Q: Are you for that moratorium? Because we are wasting time--

Sen Win: I am. We need to be prudent in this decision because it's part of the disputed areas and it might create another flashpoint. But definitely, there are impending talks to talk about disputed areas once more. I think, energy should be part of that talk. Malampaya and Recto Bank are just in the vicinity, and there are so many researches that will say Recto Bank is rich in gas reserves and it has to be part of that discussion and that will take place in the next few weeks.

Q: But then, the moratorium that the DOE put in place will not change its claim?

Sen Win: Yeah, right. Then, we have to find one of the solutions and one of the solutions that our government is thinking is commercial solution.

Q: Which was done before?

Sen Win: Yes, it was done before, how to maximize Recto Bank, jointly maximize it, of course in our terms. It's within our EEZ and how do we find mutual beneficial commercial solution in that area? I think that is being discussed in the floor right now.

Q: Alright. Now Senator, there is never been a time that the Philippines has become more aware of Spratlys, Benham Rise, than ever before compared to historical assistance work thought. If you ask Filipinos before, they did not know. Now, we've been very passionate about it. I think the question now is, what should we do to enhance ownership, jurisdiction, and sovereignty in that area?

Sen Win: In my opinion, possession is the key. If you have activities there, we are conducting research, putting up facilities--

Q: Yes. Good point. We have movement.

Sen Win: Yes, we have movement and also, there is a no-lose situation because whatever we find there will be credited to us. And we will use that for the next generations. That methane hydrate that I was mentioning about, hindi natin yan gagamitin within this generation, it will be for the next generation. But when the time comes, when we have the information, and when we have the location of where those are then we can hopefully extract them.

Q: So, what's the strategic way to actually improve presence? Do you include this in the senate hearings?

Sen Win: I think part of the recommendation really is to build critical facilities, for the Navy, for the Coast Guard. I read this morning that the Coast Guard has already started sending ships in that area but the Coast Guard management does also need a facility there because ang lalayo ng facility nila.

Q: But then you remember, correct me if I'm wrong, PAG-ASA Island, tama? And one of the criticisms was during the last administration, it was never improved.

Sen Win: Right. I think, it's still being criticized right now. And it's easier than doing it because it demands a lot of money also. To repair runway, we need billions of pesos to do that also. So, I think what we need right now is an overall strategy coupled with the budget needed to execute that.

Q: Yes, but had it been ever presented honestly? I mean, had they ever presented a plan?

Sen Win: In Benham Rise, no.

Q: No, for PAG-ASA to the Senate. Have you ever seen one?

Sen Win: I think there were talks.

Q: That's the thing. You've never seen a plan - with an amount of money.

Sen Win: I've never seen that, but definitely during the hearings that would be part of the discussion. Again, we have to look at this at an overall strategic framework and how investment in this area will enhance our claims and our possession.

Q: But then, how do you move on from talking in the country to actually doing?

Sen Win: That's where we improve on mechanisms to reduce bureaucracy. There is always a gap eh, and those gaps create a lot of confusion and that's why we need to reduce all gaps to make our communication fast. To make sure that everyone is in sync, and policies are cascaded down to the departments.

Q: Alright, last words. Do we expect any hearings when it comes to Benham Rise?

Sen Win: For Benham Rise, we terminated the hearing already. Senator Angara and I are discussing right now whether to pursue the creation of the Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA) and how much will it take to pursue it. Like I said, there was a bit of oppositions. Now, we are analyzing whether those oppositions were valid, but definitely the direction here is to have more activities in that area. We will pursue that regardless if we put up BRDA or not.

Q: Alright, thank you Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.

(end recording)

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