Home Economy Congress urged to increase funding for UP’s research in South China Sea

Congress urged to increase funding for UP’s research in South China Sea


By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

THE PHILIPPINE Coast Guard (PCG) on Sunday urged Congress to boost the funding of the University of the Philippines (UP) Marine Science Institute so it can conduct research on the country’s resources in the South China Sea amid growing tensions with China.

The state university’s institute has a National Academic Research Fleet but lacks funding for its logistical requirements, PCG spokesman Jay Tristan Tarriela told reporters at Sunday’s state-led marathon that seeks to generate public support for the Philippines in its sea dispute with China, according to a recording sent by Senator Francis N. Tolentino, office.

“It’s about time that we support our marine scientists from the University of the Philippines, give them the proper budget so they can have their own national research fleet and conduct deeper studies guided by scientific research for our position in the West Philippine Sea,” Mr. Tarriela said in mixed English and Filipino, referring to areas of the South China Sea within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

In April, the Philippine Coast Guard spotted the Shen Kuo Chinese research vessel passing through the country’s northernmost province of Batanes before lingering in waters off southern Luzon.

“They are hiding their intentions behind what they call scientific research,” Mr. Tarriela said.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

Batanes is just a few kilometers away from Taiwan, a US ally that China considers a renegade province. Batanas was among the key sites of Philippine-US military drills in April.

At the same event, Mr. Tolentino cited the need to hold more events that would raise public awareness about tensions in the South China Sea.

“Raising public awareness on the West Philippines Sea is key to rallying Filipinos to take a united stand on this issue,” he told reporters.

China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea based on a 1940s map, which a United Nations-backed arbitration court voided in 2016 for being illegal.

The Philippines has failed to enforce the ruling and has since filed hundreds of protests over what it calls encroachment and harassment by China’s coast guard and its vast fishing fleet.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies in a December study said China’s dredging and giant clam harvesting have damaged at least 21,000 acres of coral reefs in the South China Sea. The Chinese Embassy has questioned the study’s results, saying it only relied on satellite imagery.

The Senate in December passed a bill that seeks to boost the country’s defense program through investments in local defense equipment manufacturing. The measure will give the Department of National Defense P1 billion in seed funding.

Last week, the Philippines and China resumed talks to ease tensions in the waterway, days after a standoff at Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines has a handful of soldiers on a grounded World War II-era ship.

Manila is hosting the latest round of talks between the two countries under their bilateral consultation mechanism, a format intended to address South China Sea disputes.

Aside from the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.

Thousands of Filipinos joined the marathon, which started in Pasay City. Similar marathons will be held in Cebu in central Philippines next month and in Cagayan de Oro in the country’s south in September to create awareness among Filipinos, Mr. Tarriela said.

Several local governments are also seeking to hold their own marathons, he added.

“It’s a positive sign that even the local government units, not just here in Luzon but also from the Visayas and Mindanao, want to raise awareness about the efforts of the government, of President Bongbong Marcos, on the West Philippine Sea,” he said.

The fun run, which was expected to be attended by more than 7,000 people, was held days after the Philippine military flagged that China has been infiltrating various sectors in the country including local government units, the media and academic institutions.

Tensions with China have worsened in the past year as Beijing continues to block resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, where Manila grounded the BRP Sierra Madre ship in 1999 to bolster its sea claim.

‘CHINESE INFILTRATION’Mr. Tarriela on Saturday said the 165-meter China Coast Guard 5901 vessel, also known as “The Monster,” has been anchored at Sabina Shoal, which is just about 70 nautical miles away from the Philippine island of Palawan, since July 3.

It has been trying to “intimidate” the BRP Teresa Magbanua by keeping close to the Philippine Coast Guard’s biggest and most modern ship, he told a news briefing.

“The Philippine Coast Guard will not be intimidated and is not going to pull back and direct Teresa Magbanua to go back to Palawan.”

Raymond M. Powell, a fellow at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said in an X message that a China Coast Guard ship and at least six maritime militia vessels were “closely shadowing” two PCG vessels passing 14 nautical miles east of the Second Thomas Shoal on Sunday.

The shoal is about 240 kilometers from Palawan province and 900 kilometers from Hainan, the nearest major Chinese landmass.

These developments follow a June 17 standoff at the shoal, where Chinese forces with bladed weapons allegedly boarded Philippine rubber boats and looted rifles.

Philippine Navy personnel fought with bare hands and one of them lost a thumb after the boat he was in got rammed, according to the Philippine military.

Last week, Philippine military chief Romeo S. Brawner, Jr. said China is targeting the education, media, business, and local government sectors in the Philippines.

Beijing has also been trying to gain access to the country through Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO), he added.

“Chinese infiltration of critical sectors in the Philippines means that Beijing is preparing for any eventuality,” Chester B. Cabalza, president at think tank International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “They are here to stay and observe.”

Hansley A. Juliano, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, said Mr. Brawner should clarify which aspects of education and media China is trying to gain access to.

“Does he speak mostly of the basic education level or even at higher education?” he asked. “It’s one thing to question the presence of Chinese studies programs and networks in the education and security sectors, but it’s another thing to allege they were planted by Beijing,” he said via Messenger chat.

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