"SN 312 should be part of the so-called Legacy Agenda of President Duterte."
Senate Bill No. 312 should therefore be certified as urgent by President Duterte to ensure there are no alarm bells sounded in pitched decibels again. SN 312 is a bill authored by Senator Sonny Angara that seeks the creation of the Benham Rise Development Authority of BRDA, attached to NEDA, as the lead agency in conducting scientific research and exploration in Benham Rise. It shall take the lead in formulating and implementing a development roadmap for Benham Rise, ensuring that it dovetails with the Philippine Development Plan.
What might be controversial is that the principal office of the proposed BRDA will be in the Aurora Pacific Economic and Freeport Zone. If you look at the map, Isabela, Aurora and Bicol are along the ridges of Benham. The other area that could be contentious would be the share of the local governments in the exploration of the said area.
SN 312 should be part of the so-called Legacy Agenda of President Duterte. The potential of the place is known to China, Japan and South Korea. We need to harness Benham Rise to benefit the nation but it cannot be held captive by politics. Creating a bureaucracy should be the first stage so that there is presence of government there and budget can be allocated for its development. On the other hand, a layer of bureaucracy such as a development authority which is top heavy may not be the way to go. The Board of Directors as provided in Section 6 is made up of 14, 9 of which are department secretaries, 3 from the private sector and the remaining two will be NEDA (as chairman) and the BRDA administrator (vice chairman). No mention is made on local representation of provinces hear the area.
The measure does take into consideration early work done by DOST and other private firms in Benham. The BRDA should not be a startup but a catalyst and integrator on the exploration studies already made so we do not reinvent the will. It is also silent on the need to extract whatever minerals and gas found in the area. Benham has also not been declared as an environmentally critical area where the EIS law shall be observed.
The bill is also silent on the need to consult fisher folks and communities living around the shores near Benham re their roles in developing the area. The measure is also quiet on the sharing of local governments in the natural wealth. Would the Local Government Code be observed? How much of income from the development of Benham Rise should accrue to the national? Aurora would have a windfall as domicile of BRDA, but the bill is silent too on this matter. We do not want another Malampaya problem on our hands where the municipality that hosts it remains backward while the national government can’t even be accountable on how the Trust Fund of Malampaya was used or its actual value today.
These issues should be threshed out so that we do not commit the same mistakes we have in integrated development bodies which ended up as white elephants.