SENATOR Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara on Tuesday urged the Duterte administration to “assert” the country’s sovereignty over Benham Rise amid the reported statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the Philippines cannot claim the undersea region as its own territory.
Angara stressed that Benham Rise, which is part of the country’s continental shelf, is “undisputedly” part of Philippine territory.
“We have the exclusive rights to explore and exploit its natural resources.” We must protect what’s clearly ours,” Angara said.
Benham Rise officially became part of the Philippines in 2012 when the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ruled that under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the undersea landmass was contiguous with the country’s continental shelf and hence, fell under its exclusive economic zone.
However, according to recent news reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the UN approval does not mean that the region is part of the Philippines’ territory.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military, in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order, will increase its presence in the undersea region following the alleged “innocent passage” of a Chinese ship in the area last year.
“It is high time also to accelerate the development of Benham Rise as potential rich source of alternative energy, marine resources, and tourism destination,” said Angara, who authored Senate Bill 312, which aims to create the Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA).
Benham Rise, a 24-million-hectare undersea plateau off the coast of Aurora province, is touted to have vast natural gas deposits and mineral resources. It is estimated to be a much larger landmass than Luzon and it is a natural breeding ground and habitat for several marine species—making it a prime fishing spot.
“A proper inventory of Benham Rise is crucial in crafting a road map on how the country can develop and ultimately benefit from the undersea plateau especially as a potential energy source,” said Angara.
He added the creation of BRDA will address the need for a coordinated and integrated approach in the formulation and implementation of development plans and programs that will optimize its full potential.
Angara said the promotion and facilitation of public and private investments in Benham Rise will spur economic development in his home province and in Isabela.
“Such investments will lead to job generation especially for the locals. It’s been five years since the UN approved our territorial claim and yet Benham Rise remains largely unexplored. There is a pressing need to scale up and sustain the scientific study and exploration of the undersea region in light of such unauthorized foreign incursion in our territory,” Angara noted.