By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Agriculture (DA) has pumped up its budget proposal for next year to P218 billion as it intends to seek a separate fund for the protection of Benham Rise, a 25-million hectare shallow continental shelf east of the main island of Luzon.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), an agency under DA, is seeking the inclusion of an initial budget of P5 billion for the protection and conservation of Benham Rise, which the agriculture chief now calls the Philippine Rise.
The proposed budget for Benham Rise was submitted by the DA on Wednesday to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) during the technical committee hearing on the agency’s budgetary requirements for 2018, Piñol said.
It was just last month when Piñol said he was assured by President Rodrigo Duterte that the DA will receive its desired budget of P213 billion for next year.
“The proposed funding (of additional P5 billion) was a last minute addition to the DA Budgetary Proposals as a result of the directive of President Duterte for government to protect and conserve the rich fishing area which is now being poached by foreign fishing vessels,” Piñol said.
According to him, the initial budget will be used to start efforts to establish a research and monitoring facility in the Benham Bank, a 15,000-hectare area in the middle of Benham Rise.
The facility, which will be designed based on the recommendations of engineers and scientists, will also serve as a “refuge” area of Coast Guard vessels and Filipino fishing vessels.
“In the proposal I submitted to President Duterte and the Cabinet on May 8, the acquisition of air assets such as patrol helicopters and long-flying drones was also included,” Piñol said. “President Duterte approved the proposals and directed the DAF to work with the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of National Defense to initially conduct reconnaissance and patrol missions in the area.”