'Benham Rise is ours,' Nene Pimentel says after PH allowed China research
MANILA, Philippines – Benham Rise is ours.
Former Senate president Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr said the Philippines has jurisdiction over Benham Rise and other islands being contested by China, including Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan Group of Islands.
Pimentel, founder of President Rodrigo Duterte's party PDP-Laban, was speaking at the second Senate hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) on Tuesday, January 23.
"Even as discussion in this particular forum is focused on BBL, our people should not forget that if we talk about BBL, that applies to the Republic of the Philippines. We are not only talking about Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, we would like to emphasize Scarborough Shoal is ours, Kalayaan shoals are ours, that Benham Rise is likewise within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as defined by the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)," Pimentel said during the hearing.
The former Senate president's statement came after the Duterte administration allowed China to conduct maritime research in Benham Rise. It was Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, an opposition lawmaker, who first revealed the information. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano later confirmed it. (READ: Lorenzana: China showed interest in PH's Benham Rise)
Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora, which the Philippines fought for and won before the United Nations in 2012. (FAST FACTS: What you should know about Benham Rise)
In May last year, China said the Philippines could not claim Benham Rise as its own territory. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque agreed with the statement and said on Monday, January 22, that the Philippines has "sovereign rights" and not "sovereignty" over the area.
"We do not have sovereignty in the Benham Rise because what we only have in Benham Rise as part of our extended continental shelf is the right to explore and exploit the natural resources found thereat," Roque said.
In recent years, China has aggressively developed maritime features in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Duterte, during the presidential campaign, vowed to defend the Philippines' maritime territory.
But ties between Manila and Beijing have warmed since Duterte assumed office and he has since softened his stance on the dispute. (READ: 5 ways Duterte can defend Scarborough without going to war) – Rappler.com