John Matthew Cruz
TO forestall Chinese activities at Benham Rise, the Philippine Navy will now regularly patrol the resource-rich area, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed on Friday.
Last week,BRP Ramon Alcaraz, a Navy frigate acquired from the United States, was sent to the 13-million-hectare region east of Luzon said to contain vast mineral deposits.
“The Navy will henceforth regularly patrol Benham Rise partly due to past Chinese activities there but more importantly because it is part of our continental shelf and awarded to us by the UN (United Nations),” said Lorenzana.
The government’s next activity in Benham Rise, Lorenzana said, would be a survey to clearly determine its limits, depths, coral formations and other features.
Buhay Party-list Rep. Jose Atienza on Friday bared plans for a bill that will establish a Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority, saying the area is of great economic value to future generations of Filipinos, based on the massive deposits of metal-bearing nodules found around the extinct volcano ridge.
At the Senate, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also said it was about time for the country to explore the area, and said he would fast-track the passage of Senate Bill No. 312 or the Benham Rise Development Authority Act, a bill similar to Atienza’s measure.
The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria), Atienza noted, explored Benham Rise between 2007 and 2008 and found exceptionally high concentrations of manganese nodules on the seabed.
The legislator, a former Environment secretary, said the sea floor around Benham is covered with metal-rich chunks – manganese nodules that also contain nickel, copper, cobalt and other minerals.
Two weeks ago, the Defense chief said Chinese survey ships, were monitored in the Benham region last year.
President Rodrigo Duterte later admitted that he allowed Chinese vessels to explore the area and cautioned against picking a fight with China.
Defend Panatag, Benham
Atienza reminded President Duterte that aside from addressing the drug problem, there is an equally pressing need to defend not only Panatag Shoal but Benham Rise from any foreign incursion.
“It is wrong to say that we can’t do anything. The whole nation is behind him (Duterte) in defending our territorial interests,” he said.
The Philippines sought the inclusion of Benham Rise in the country’s extended continental shelf before the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2009, which was approved in 2012.
Atienza said this gave the Philippines exclusive control over the area, together with the utilization of any and all natural resources within