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Gatchalian to fast-track creation of Benham Rise Development Authority

BENHAM BANK, Philippines – A technical diver collects sediment samples for fauna and flora analyses, in this image taken during the 2016 Benham Rise expedition, where a team ​of ​algae and fishery experts, ecologists, microbiologists and oceanographers from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), UP Los Baños School of Environmental Science and Management, UP Marine Science Institute, and Oceana ​surveyed the shallowest portion of the 13-million hectare​ ​underwater landmass east of Luzon.​ Handout Photo by OCEANA/UPLB

Senator Win Gatchalian on Thursday announced plans to fast-track the passage of legislation pending before the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs which seeks to create a government body tasked to oversee the defense and development of the Benham Rise.

“Suspicious activities on the part of Chinese authorities concerning the Benham Rise have underscored the urgent need for the Philippine government to invest significant resources in long-term strategies that will empower us to uphold our clear-cut sovereign rights in the area,” said Gatchalian, the chairman of the committee.

In line with this, Gatchalian said he would steer the committee to prioritize the speedy passage of Senate Bill No. 312, the Benham Rise Development Authority Act.

SBN 312, authored by fellow Seatmates bloc member 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.

Despite the adjournment of the Senate session for the next six weeks, Gatchalian’s committee will push through with a technical working group (TWG) meeting on March 29 to consider proposals to strengthen provisions on defense and natural resources development.

After this, Gatchalian said he would aim to sponsor the measure on the floor upon the resumption of the Senate session on May 2, at which time he will call on President Rodrigo Duterte and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III to certify the measure as urgent.

“With the unified support of the executive and legislative branches, there is a good chance to pass this critical legislation before Congress closes for the sine die adjournment,” said Gatchalian.

In addition, Gatchalian urged the Duterte administration to take a hard-line stance against any further Chinese actions or pronouncements that seek to belittle Philippine rights in the area.

“The Benham Rise issue is separate and distinct from the West Philippine Sea dispute. In fact, there is no dispute to speak of concerning the Benham Rise because the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has long ago confirmed our distinct and exclusive sovereign rights in the area. When it comes to the Benham Rise, there is no room for any ‘nine-dash line’ nonsense,” Gatchalian said.