PH can ban China in Benham, but not other nations – Carpio

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the Philippines will be violating international law – the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS) – if it disallows all scientists from foreign nations from conducting research in Benham Rise. 

He said there's legal ground to ban Chinese scientists from the country's extended continental shelf but other nationalities should be allowed.

"Under UNCLOS, the Philippines can validly disallow China from conducting Marine Scientific Research in our extended continental shelf in Benham Rise because China has refused to comply with the arbitral ruling of a tribunal created under UNCLOS," Carpio told Rappler on Tuesday, February 6. 

"The Philippines has no valid ground to disallow other member states of UNCLOS, and will be violating UNCLOS if it disallows other states," Carpio said.

Carpio was reacting to a pronouncement by Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol that said President Rodrigo Duterte has banned all foreign scientists from Benham Rise supposedly so that only Filipino scientists will explore the country's new territory.

The pronouncement comes after the Philippines approved the permit of Chinese firm Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese to explore the country's eastern seaboard, which includes Benham Rise, to gather data on the ocean circulation in the Western Pacific Ocean. 

The pronouncement also comes as close-up aerial photos of China's massive developments on reclaimed reefs in the South China Sea were published. (READ: Malacañang on China buildup on PH reef: What do you want us to do?

UNCLOS encourages exploration and exploitation of maritime resources "for the benefit of mankind as a whole, irrespective of the geographical location of States."

"A legal order for the seas and oceans...will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment," the UNCLOS treaty reads. 

Piñol claimed that Duterte's decision to ban all foreign scientists from Benham Rise came after he learned about a statement by an unnamed "foreign low-level diplomat" that "the Philippines does not own the whole of the Rise."

UNCLOS provides that states have sovereign rights over waters located 200 nautical miles from their shores – called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – and over waters found to be a part of its extended continental shelf. A big part of Benham Rise is inside the Philippine EEZ, with the rest declared a part of the country's continental shelf.

Carpio is one of the country's leading experts on UNCLOS. He was among the pioneers of country's international case against China, which resulted in a categorical rejection of Beijing's nine-dash-line claim over almost all of the South China Sea. 

China is a signatory to UNCLOS but it ignored the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, Netherlands. 

The international court also ruled that China has repeatedly violated the Philippines' sovereign rights when, among others, it reclaimed Mischief Reef and prevented Filipino fishermen from fishing in Scarborough Shoal. – Rappler.com