The trip of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to the Philippine Rise (formerly Benham Rise) to send off Filipino scientists who will conduct maritime research is both "symbolic" and "assertive", his spokesperson said Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark as Duterte is set to lead on May 15 the research team’s send-off ceremony which commemorates the 2012 United Nations (UN) declaration that the undersea feature is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf.

The send-off ceremony also falls on a day before the first anniversary of renaming the undersea feature from Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.

“Ito po ay (This trip is) symbolic at the same time assertive,” Roque said.

Roque described it as “symbolic” pointing out that the seamount itself could not actually be visited.

“Symbolic, dahil ang Philippine Rise naman po talaga ay iyong lupa at mga bato sa ilalim ng karagatan, hindi kami makakarating doon ‘no, doon lang kami sa karagatan sa ibabaw ng continental shelf (Symbolic, because the Philippine Rise is land and stones underneath the sea, we can’t make it there, we’ll only stay above the continental shelf),” Roque said.

He said that it was “assertive” because it shows the government’s policy to prohibit foreign scientific research and prioritize only Filipino scientists to carry out research in the Philippine Rise.

“Pero ito ay nagpapakita na ang polisiya ng gobyerno ngayon ay talaga pong atin na hindi na muna natin ishe-share sa ibang dayuhan (But this also shows the policy of the government which shows that we won’t share research efforts with foreigners),” he added.

In February, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Joel Montales confirmed that “all research had already been concluded in the area (Philippine Rise).”

Montales is also chair of the inter-agency technical working group responsible for the grant of licenses to conduct scientific research in the Philippine Rise.

Roque added that following this development, the President has ordered the revocation of all licenses given to foreign researchers.

He clarified that this does not mean that foreign researchers were totally banned from conducting research in the Philippine Rise.

“It’s not really a ban, I guess it’s just a directive that we want Filipinos to do it as much as possible. That we’re reserving it for Filipinos,” Roque said in an earlier briefing.

“He (Duterte) just said because our sovereign rights in Philippine Rise is unquestioned, we do not need to share it with anyone as of now,” he added.

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