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Gatchalian to Palace: Defend Benham Rise

PASAY CITY, Philippines – Dr. Fernando Siringan​, director of the UP Marine Science Institute explains to the Senate Committees on Energy, which is chaired by Senator Win Gatchalian (back on camera), on Foreign Relations and on Economic Affairs, at a recent hearing, the scope of scientific study the government should pursue to map a policy framework for Benham Rise. A May 2016 expedition revealed the Philippines stands to benefit from its massive ecosystem and potential mineral deposits. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Senator Win Gatchalian on Thursday urged the Duterte administration to aggressively defend the Benham rise in the face of reported Chinese intrusions into the area.

“We are now only beginning to discover the true potential of the Benham Rise to make unique contributions to our country’s ecological and economic prospects. The government must take immediate action to defend our exclusive sovereignty over the Benham Rise to ensure that this potential will be developed and utilized to benefit the Filipino people,” Gatchalian said.

Earlier the week the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Gatchalian, manifested it’s support for the creation of a multi-agency authority to develop a long-term policy framework on how to tap and manage the resources of Benham Rise and solidify the country’s interest in the underwater landmass at the panel’s hearing on Senate Bill No. 312.

SBN 312, authored by Senator Sonny Angara, seeks the creation of a Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA), to be an attached agency of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), in order to spearhead intensive scientific research and exploration in Benham Rise, identify its economic potential, and take the lead in formulating and implementing a development roadmap aligned with the country’s Philippine Development Plan.

Among other things, the senator stressed the importance of the conduct of deep-sea explorations to determine the Benham Rise’s potential as an energy source, noting reports that it has vast natural gas deposits and mineral resources, like manganese.

In addition, Gatchalian said there is a need for government, in partnership with private organizations, to conduct more studies on Benham Rise to discover its full economic potential.

Benham Rise is a 13 million-hectare underwater landmass that is about 250 kilometers off the coastline of Aurora province. It was discovered in 1933 and officially became part of the Philippines in 2012 when the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ruled that under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Benham Rise area was contiguous with the country’s continental shelf and fell under its exclusive economic zone. It stressed that Benham Rise is undisputedly part of Philippine territory.