PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is considering renaming Benham Rise to “Philippine Rise,” in a bid “to emphasize Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the area.”
In statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea had been tasked to look into the possibility of changing the name of Benham Rise, the 13-million-hectare underwater area off the coast of northeastern Luzon.
“A motion has been made subject to the conduct of the requisite legal and logistical study to effect the change,” Abella said.
China, whose survey ships were spotted in the area last year, said in March the Philippines could not claim Benham Rise as its own territory even after a United Nations body ruled in 2012 that it was part of the country’s extended continental shelf.
The Philippines sought the ruling from the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2009.
Within the extended continental shelf, the Philippines can invoke “sovereign rights,” rights lesser than “sovereignty” but still allows the exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of natural resources.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea says that a coastal state “exercises over the continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources…exclusive in the sense that if the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, no one may undertake these activities without the express consent of the coastal State.”
“Natural resources” in the continental shelf mean “mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species.”
Yolanda Aguilar, acting chief of the Marine Geological Survey Division of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, told a Senate inquiry last Wednesday that Benham Rise should be explored for its mineral potential, apart from its rich biodiversity.
Since Benham Rise is located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, there is a big possibility of finding metallic minerals in the area, including sulfides like gold and copper, she said.
But it might not be easy for the Philippine government to conduct a geological survey in the area, which is almost the size of Luzon and the Visayas combined, on its own because of the cost.
Senators learned during the public hearing that the government needs to spend at least $50,000 a day just for the rental of a ship, and a survey usually takes a minimum of 30 days to finish.
A number of lawmakers have filed bills seeking the establishment of the Benham Rise Development Authority that will harness the area’s natural resources.
Benham Rise, however, lacks features that could make it a source of petroleum, according to an official of the Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corp.