SENATE President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Sunday called on the Executive department to craft a comprehensive strategy to protect Benham Rise, a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora, from foreign incursion.
Senator Win Gatchalian earlier urged the Duterte administration to defend Benham Rise in the face of the reported Chinese intrusions into the area.
“No ifs or buts. The government must have a Benham Rise Protection Strategy. A comprehensive strategy in holding on to and developing Benham Rise,” Recto said.
“We cannot be caught unaware. There should be no Pearl Harbor moment that will surprise us that other countries have installed themselves on what by law is part of our territory.”
Recto issued the statement following reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs had sent a note verbale to the Chinese Embassy to clarify the reported presence of a Chinese survey ship near Benham Rise.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had reported the Chinese survey ship was seen plying the waters of Benham Rise for around three months.
Without a protection strategy, Recto said, Benham Rise might easily fall prey not only to poachers but to foreign countries interested in exploring the plateau’s marine and mineral resources.
“We have practically lost the seas west and north of us. We cannot be encircled. The Eastern side of the country should be defended as well,” he said.
“I am not referring to one country,” Recto said, adding he was not singling out China but warning all countries that might be tempted by the riches underneath Benham Rise.
Aside from its diverse marine life, Benham Rise is also believed to be a rich source of manganese and natural gas.
“We should not allow that area to be partitioned like a frontier homestead. Or cut up into blocks to be controlled and exploited by others,” Recto said.
“That area is crucial to our future. If there are gas deposits, those will power our future. It is a fishing area too. With large swaths of our western seas now declared a no-catch zone to our fishermen, this will provide an alternative venue.”
Recto said the government must also focus its attention to the other areas on the Pacific side of the country that had been lagging economically.
“The Pacific side has always been the unattended portion of our archipelago. There are many underdeveloped places there. It is time for us to pivot.”
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