13-M hectare Benham Rise lifts Pinoy spirits

Experts say the Philippine government should now pass an order or a law to determine the boundaries of its continental shelf

UNDERWATER PLATEAU. Found near Aurora, the 13-million hectare Benham Rise is part of Philippine territory. Screen grab from a document the Philippines submitted to UN

MANILA, Philippines – It’s the first time the Philippines won a territorial claim under a United Nations (UN) maritime convention, a spark of hope for Filipinos amid the ongoing standoff between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal.

It shows on the Rappler Mood Meter: 92% happy, 5% inspired, and 2% amused in connection with the UN’s approval of the Philippines’ territorial claim over the 13-million hectare Benham Rise off the province of Aurora.

Bigger than the 10.5-million hectare Luzon, the underwater Benham Rise is potentially rich in steel-producing minerals and natural gas, fueling hopes the Philippines can supply its own energy and even export it in the future. It also provides a precedent for the Philippines’ other claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

The Philippines also invokes Unclos in the Scarborough Shoal standoff that has entered its 4th week. 

“It’s important to us because it underlines the fact that the Philippines adheres to international law in making territorial claims,” Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang told Rappler on Thursday, May 3.

Dr Mahar Lagmay, professor at the University of the Philippines’ (UP) National Institute of Geological Sciences, said this victory “demonstrates our technical, scientific, financial, and political capabilities as well as resolve to claim seabed territory.”

‘Take that, China!’

On Twitter, netizens turned jubilant upon learning the news about Benham Rise.

“Mabuhay! Welcome to Benham Rise, Philippines” said Twitter user Justin Queyquep (@JustinQueyquep) about what he called the “youngest” Philippine territory.

Netizen Adam Christopher (@adamtibe), for his part, expressed hope the Philippines could afterwards claim Scarborough Shoal.

Carmelo Loyola (@carmeloloyola) said, “Take that, China! Amin na ‘to! Wala nang habulan! Manahimik!” (This is ours! No more running after this! Shut up!)

Baka nasa ancient maps na naman nila ‘yan,” remarked Twitter user K Enriquez (@kintoy), referring to China’s claim over Scarborough Shoal that is based on maps from the 13th century Yuan dynasty. (Could that also be in their ancient maps?)  

Meanwhile, others said corruption-ridden Philippines should learn to maximize Benham Rise. “So do we have a future now?” remarked Twitter user @rcwizard8.

“Let us hope the benefits go to the betterment of our country and not to our politicians’ pockets,” said Facebook user Louie N Reyes. “Use it to pay our debts or to develop the countryside.”

FIRST VICTORY. This is the Philippines' first victory for territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Screen grab from a document the Philippines submitted to UN

Next steps

Lagmay said the next step for the Philippines is “to give publicity thereto, which will announce to the whole world that the Philippines is sovereign in so far as the natural resources on the seabed and in the subsoil of the extended continental shelf in the Benham Rise region (are) concerned.”

The Philippine government should now implement a law or pass an executive order to determine the boundaries of its continental shelf, marine law expert Jay Batongbacal earlier told Rappler.

The country will undertake the procedures recommended, Carandang said.

The government, however, has not made an official announcement on its newly acquired territory, with initial news on it having come from a media interview with Environment Secretary Ramon Paje. – Rappler.com