THE Philippines is the sole nation that has privilege to conduct exploration at the Benham Rise, an underwater landmass that is part of the country's continental shelf, Malacañang insisted on Friday, January 12.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. explained the Philippines is the only country that can explore Benham Rise, which was renamed by President Rodrigo Duterte as Philippine Rise, unless it permits joint exploration to any foreign countries.
"Benham Rise is exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. It is an extended continental shelf of the Philippines, as awarded to us by the United Nations Commission on the [Limits of the] Continental Shelf," Roque told a press conference in Bukidnon.
"It is covered by a sovereign right, which is exclusive in nature, unless the Philippines agrees to joint exploration. So as of now, it should be sole exploration by the Philippines, as part of its sovereign rights," he added.
Roque's statement came a day after Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano raised worry over the Department of Foreign Affair's approval of China's request to conduct a marine scientific research in the Philippine waters, including Philippine Rise.
Alejano, in a statement on Thursday, Janaury 11, cautioned the government to be "careful" and "prudent" in allowing other nations, escpecially China, to enter Philippine waters.
He reminded the Duterte administration that China, an ardent South China Sea claimant, has assertive claims over areas within the Philippines' exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
"We should be careful and prudent in grating any access to our waters, especially with China, [which] is known to claim 80 percent of our EEZ in SOuth China Sea through its expansive nine-dash line," Alejano said.
Philippine Rise, popularly known as Benham Rise, is a 13-million hectare undersea region that lies east of Luzon and off the provinces of Isabela and Aurora. It is believed to be a rich source of natural gas and other resources like heavy metals.
The Philippines' claim over Philippine Rise was embodied in Archipelagic Baselines Law.
In April 2012, the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea confirmed that Philippine Rise is within the Philippines' continental shelf. Three years after, the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf also approved the country's claim for the undersea region to be part of its extended continental shelf.
In 2016, the Philippine government revealed the suspicious activites of a Chinese survey vessel near Philippine Rise that lasted for three months the same year.
Duterte, however, had said that he got assurance from China that they would not claim Philippine Rise. (SunStar Philippines)