“Benham Rise is part of Philippine territory. We must exercise our sovereignty over this area and assert our rights. The immediate creation of a management framework to ensure the protection of this special place and the conservation of its marine resources is a compelling first step,”
– Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice-president for Oceana Philippines.
Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau located near Aurora. It is granted by the United Nations by the power vested in the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) as they confirm the Benham Rise as an official part of the Philippine’s continental shelf in 2012.
It was the country’s very first successful validated claim under UNCLOS.
But many has been mistaking the country’s sovereign rights over the Benham Rise. An important distinction to note is that the Philippines has sovereign rights over the area but we do not have full sovereignty over it. The Benham rise is a part of the Philippine’s continental shelf, but not a part of the country’s nationl territory.
What control does the Philippines have over the continental shelf?
According to Articles 77 to 81 of the UNCLOS, a coastal nation has control of all resources on or under its continental shelf, living or not, but no control over any living organisms above the shelf that are beyond its exclusive economic zone. The Philippines can exercise jurisdiction to anything and everything under the continental shelf, but no control over anything and everything on the surface of the waters.
The Philippines has the sovereign right to explore and exploit the oil, gas and other mineral resources in Benham Rise as part of its extended continental shelf (ECS).
Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio explained the rights of other countries to conduct certain activities in the Benham rise that limits to:
-fishery research because the fish in the ECS belongs to no one
-survey on water salinity and water currents because the water column in the ECS belongs to everyone
-depth soundings for navigational purposes because there is freedom of navigation in the ECS.
The Philippine government has conducted numerous expeditions to the region to study its resources. Last May 2016, Oceana, the earth’s largest NGO working on ocean conservation, joined government scientists from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, plus the University of the Philippines, Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Navy for an expedition to Benham Bank — the shallowest portion of the Rise.
The fundamental position of the Philippines regarding the extent of
its territorial and maritime boundaries and its sovereign rights over it is something that should be properly explained to the people to avoid unnecessary confusion.