A SENIOR magistrate of the Supreme Court said Tuesday the Philippines had some rights over Benham Rise as confirmed by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as part of the country’s “Extended Continental Shelf” or ECS.
But Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Benham Rise, a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 kilometers east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela, “is not part of the Philippine national territory.”
Nonetheless, Carpio stressed that since Benham Rise is part of the country’s ECS, the Philippines has sovereign rights over the continental shelf.
‘‘However, we have sovereign rights [less than sovereignty]over Benham Rise because we have exclusive right to explore and exploit the oil, gas and other mineral resources in Benham Rise which has been confirmed by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as part of the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) of the Philippines,” he said in a statement.
‘‘Other states, like China, have the right to conduct in Benham Rise (1) fishery research because the fish in the ECS belongs to mankind; (2) surveys on water salinity and water currents because the water column in the ECS belongs to mankind; and (3) depth soundings for navigational purposes because there is freedom of navigation in the ECS,” he said.
‘‘If the Chinese vessels were looking for submarine passages and parking spaces, that would be part of freedom of navigation and the Philippines has no reason to complain. If the Chinese vessels were conducting seismic surveys to look for oil, gas and minerals, then they could not do that because UNCLOS [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea] has reserved the oil, gas and minerals in the ECS to the Philippines,” he added.
Carpio, whom President Duterte tapped as a legal consultant in territorial disputes with China, authored the SC decision that unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law of 2009 which determine the Philippines 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
However, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said they were looking at the possibility of conducting a survey to determine Benham Rise’s exact size and its possible resources to demonstrate the Philippines’ ownership of the area.
“We will make a survey to determine the area’s exact size and then later on we will decide what to do with the area,” Lorenzana said.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara urged the government to assert the Philippines’ sovereignty over Benham Rise in the wake of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s remarks that the Philippines could not claim the undersea region as its territory.
He stressed that Benham Rise was part of Philippine territory.
“We have the exclusive rights to explore and exploit its natural resources,” Angara said.
“We must protect what’s clearly ours. It is high time also to accelerate the development of Benham Rise as a potential rich source of alternative energy, marine resources and tourism destination.”
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