Benham Rise is part of Philippine territory and the government will have to secure it for the nation’s interest and not China’s, a senior Malacañang official said yesterday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said that the Duterte administration is not taking reported Chinese incursions in the area as if it did not happen, but will as much as possible prevent any heated conflict.
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“First and foremost, the Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino people. The Philippine government is duty-bound to defend and protect our sovereign and territorial rights over this region,” Abella told reporters at a weekly briefing at the Palace.
“The Philippines has the responsibility to oversee and regulate the sailing ships of other countries that pass the waters of Benham Rise,” he added, citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas which favors the Philippines’ claims. Among the measures that President Duterte wants to do in securing the waters surrounding Benham Rise is by intensifying the presence of Philippine state forces in the area as discussed in a closed National Security Council meeting at the Palace that lasted until Tuesday midnight.
“The President did agree that we should improve capabilities of enforcing our rights in the matter, enforcing our rights regarding airspace and territorial waters,” Abella said. The Palace official said that other countries can pass through Benham Rise that’s situated along the South China Sea but are restrained from building any structures there.
In the upper chamber, calls to protect and assert the country’s sovereignty over resource-rich Benham Rise are now snowballing, with Sen. Sonny Angara joining those urging the government to protect the 13-million hectare underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora from foreign incursion.
“Benham Rise is undisputed part of Philippine territory. We have the exclusive rights to explore and exploit its natural resources,” the senator, who authored Senate Bill 312 proposing the creation the Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA), said.
“We must protect what’s clearly ours. It is high time also to accelerate the development of Benham Rise as potential rich source of alternative energy, marine resources and tourism destination,” he added.
Angara’s statements were in response to the pronouncements made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the Philippines cannot claim the undersea region as its own territory. Estimated to be a much larger landmass than Luzon, 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 roadmap on how the country can develop and ultimately benefit from the undersea plateau especially as a potential energy source,” the lawmaker said. 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.
The former representative of Aurora Province further stressed that 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,” he added.
“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 said.
ARTICLE RETRIEVED FROM : http://www.tribune.net.ph/nation/rp-benham-rise-is-ours