The Daily Manila Shimbun


Philippines has sovereign right over Benhan: DFA

March 14, 2017

The Philippine government said Tuesday the country has indisputable and sovereign right over Benham Rise,  potentially resource-rich undersea landmass off the northeast coast. Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said Benham Rise, which was recognized by the United Nations as part of the Philippines' continental shelf in 2012, is within country's Exclusive Economic Zone and extended continental shelf under a UN maritime convention. "It is indisputable because no other country has an overlapping claim there and this was awarded to us by the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf," Jose told reporters in an interview. "So as a country that exercises sovereign rights and jurisdiction, we are the only one that has a sole and exclusive right to explore and exploit the national resources in Benham Rise," he added. “It is our responsibility to protect it." Chinese survey vessels were reportedly spotted off Benham Rise, which has alarmed Philippine defense officials, saying the Chinese went at a slow speed and sometimes stopped at some points. The Philippines sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy, seeking clarification on the presence of their vessels in Benham Rise but Beijing has not responded. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman has acknowledged Chinese ships have passed through Benham Rise waters, but maintained it was in exercise of China's "freedom of navigation" and "right to innocent passage." Benham, also known as the Benham Plateau, is a 13 million-hectare undersea region east of Luzon and is 35 meters underwater at its shallowest point off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela. Meanwhile, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Benham Rise “is not part of the Philippine national territory because we do not have sovereignty over” it. Carpio was part of the Philippine delegation appeared before the United Nation’ Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2015 and has been tapped by President Rodrigo Duterte as consultant in the territorial issues with China. “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 ( expanded continental shelf) to the Philippines," Carpio said. News reports quoted Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as saying China's latest move was "very worrying." Carpio said since Benham Rise is part of the country’s ECS, the Philippines has sovereign rights over the continental shelf. “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 of the Philippines,” he said, in a statement. Under the UNCLOS, a coastal state's exclusive economic zone extends 370 kilometers or 200 nautical miles from its continental shelf, while its extended continental shelf extends for another 278 km or 150 nautical miles. With the UN recognition of the Philippine claim, the country's territory has increased to 43 million hectares from 30 million hectares. Jose said the Philippines recognizes other countries' right freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage. "We recognize those principles," Jose said as he reminded China that no country can claim an entire sea "in the same manner that China can not claim the entire South China Sea because it is not their territory." Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana  Chinese survey ships stopped at some points and cruised at a slow speed in the  Benham Rise area for several months last year. DMS