By Christina Mendez/The Philippine Star – President Duterte has ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Office of the Executive Secretary to determine how the Philippines can further assert its rights over Benham Rise by renaming it Philippine Rise.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said yesterday the DFA and the Office of the Executive Secretary have been tasked to look into the possibility of changing the name of Benham Rise to Philippine Rise to emphasize Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the area.
“A motion has been made subject to the conduct of the requisite legal and logistical study to effect the change,” Abella said.
The other day, Duterte revealed his Cabinet briefed him on the Philippines’ jurisdiction over a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcano ridge located beneath the Philippine Sea approximately 250 kms (160 miles) east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.
After conflicting statements from the President and his subalterns on whether there was clearance for Chinese ships to navigate the area, Duterte’s recent statements indicate that he now has clearer knowledge about the area.
“That’s how it is, so you will understand – this is the land, the Philippines. It’s not like when you get to the territory, you’ll fall immediately because it’s a mountainous area. The continental shelf is the one connected to our land, under the sea,” he said in Filipino during an event last Friday at Malacañang marking the end of Women’s Month.
Duetrte explained to the crowd that Benham Rise is a submerged area, which makes it part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
Earlier, a supplemental impeachment complaint was filed by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano against Duterte for his failure to assert the country’s exclusive sovereignty and maritime rights and territorial claims over Benham Rise, aside from Panatag Shoal.
Deja vu of ‘West Phl Sea’
The move to rename Benham Rise is reminiscent of former president Benigno Aquino III’s efforts of renaming parts of the South China Sea to “West Philippine Sea” in 2012.
Aquino issued an administrative order that renamed the South China Sea waters within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as the West Philippine Sea, following a two-month row between Chinese and Philippine vessels from early to mid June of that year.
Recently, Rep. Lito Atienza of party-list group Buhay reiterated the Philippines’ claim on Benham Rise, saying that China could not possibly claim the said underwater territory.
“China would have to cross over Luzon, and claim the whole of Luzon, before it could claim Benham,” Atienza said.
He also pointed out that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines was required to tender for approval the particulars of the outer limits of its continental shelf.
On April 8, 2009, the country lodged a full territorial waters claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in relation to the continental shelf in the region of Benham Rise, according to the website benhamrise.com.
In a special report published by Oceana Philippines last February, a team of marine scientists went on a weeklong research expedition in Benham Rise in May 2016 and found a dazzling array of soft and hard corals, fish, algae and sponges.
The report added that 100-percent coral cover in several sites, with an impressive field of plate corals, was observed by the scientists.
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