(SPOT.ph) Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque caused an uproar in the Filipino academic community on Tuesday when he suggested that no Filipino team has applied to conduct research on Benham Rise and no Filipino could afford to carry out the “capital-intensive” endeavor.
One of the critics who slammed Roque's comments was maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal, who detailed a list showing years of research conducted by Filipino scientists on Benham Rise.
"We are not a nation of beggars for small change, even if it is from a country as big and rich as China," Batongbacal said.
In 2016, marine scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the University of the Philippines, along with international ocean conservation organization Oceana, conducted an expedition to Benham Rise.
Diary entries and videos of the expedition are available on Oceana's website, including a full documentary. Watch:
On Thursday, Roque backtracked on his comments, saying Filipinos can freely explore Benham Rise without the government's position.
According to an ABS-CBN News report, Roque was apparently misunderstood by his critics. "I was referring to China when I said ‘no one has applied and no one can do it, because, apparently, it’s capital-intensive,’” Roque said in a statement.
"To reiterate, I never said that Filipinos cannot conduct research in Benham Rise. On the contrary, only Filipinos can do so even without express consent of our state,” he added.