President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said the Benham Rise is exclusively Philippine property, stressing he would not allow other nations to intrude in the area except for innocent passage of foreign vessels.
Benham Rise, also known as the Philippine Rise, became a topic for discussion after former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile suggested that the Philippine government exploit the area using resources from economic dealings with China.
“I have made it clear to all, to the world, that I will not allow any intrusion there. Well, of course, the right to innocent passage is everybody’s privilege,” President Duterte said during his weekly public address.
“But to allow anybody, even to just try to exploit or to even to look in, you know, I will not allow them to do that because that belongs – Philippine Rise belongs to the Filipino people.”
Enrile, who was a guest during the President’s Talk to the People, suggested that whatever the country can get from China on the West Philippine Sea, it must be used to strengthen the Philippine military capability and to exploit Benham Rise.
The former Senate leader said that assuming there’s no dispute about the country’s right over exclusive economic exploitation of West Philippine Sea assets, it still needs foreign money to make it a source of wealth for the nation.
The choice is either go to Europe and get technology and capital to explore and exploit the energy resources in the economic zone in West Philippine Sea, or to deal directly with China.
China, he said, is now very advanced in terms of energy exploration, having major operations in Africa and elsewhere.
“As far as I am concerned, we will not gain anything by antagonizing China. I’m not pro-China. I’m not… I do not have any interest in China,” he said.
“But as a Filipino, I will take this position to protect my countrymen, to protect our core territory, to protect our economy. Maybe we can get better by talking with China instead of being aggressive.”
Benham Rise is a 13-million hectare under sea region east of Luzon and is 35 meters underwater at its shallowest point off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela.
In April 2012, the United Nation (UN) officially approved and recognized the claim of the Philippines in strict compliance with the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Wider than the entire Luzon, Samar, and Leyte combined, it became official part of the Philippines because it is the only country within 200 nautical miles of the plateau.
UN’s recognition enables the Philippines to extract abundant mineral, oil and natural gas of Benham Rise, which is believed to have mineral and gas deposits, providing the country with its own energy source.