View Full Version : Philippines moves to claim, secure Benham Rise

07-04-2012, 03:28 PM
After getting the nod of the United Nations on its claim to Benham Rise, the Philippines has moved in on the submerged landmass believed to be rich in natural gas and minerals off eastern Luzon. Benham Rise is found in one of the country’s “unexploited” fishing grounds, according to Assistant Director Gil Adora of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). His agency is currently assessing the area’s marine resources. Adora said commercial fishermen from China and Taiwan had been entering the eastern seaboard of Luzon over the past years. Their ships are more advanced and well-equipped to handle the strong waves there, he said. “Taiwan is exploiting it right now,” he added.

In April, the agency implementing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) informed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf and territory. The Unclos, concluded in 1982, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans.

Rich in blue fin tuna

Also known as Benham Plateau, the massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, has been described in studies as a thickened portion of the Philippine sea plate’s oceanic crust. According to the DENR, the plateau is rich in natural gas and manganese nodules. The waters of the 13-million-hectare continental shelf off the coast of Aurora province is rich in blue fin tuna, Adora said. The BFAR official explained that the Pacific blue fin usually found in the colder waters of the northern Pacific has thrived in the seas east of Luzon, which are colder than the other tuna fishing grounds of Filipino fishermen.

Tuna production

Access to the rich fishing ground will be an advantage to the Aquino administration. Tuna is one of the Philippines’ top fisheries exports, but the volume declined recently after conservation measures were imposed in the Pacific high seas. Total tuna exports in 2010 wasvalued at $359.4 million. Of the total volume, about 70 percent was in canned form (76,800 metric tons), and the rest (33,688 metric tons) was either fresh, chilled or frozen. Canned tuna exports in 2010 dropped by 8 percent compared to 2009 figures. BFAR Director Asis Perez said the reopening of the Pacific high seas would mean an additional 150,000 MT of tuna catch for the Philippines. A limited number of Filipino commercial fishers will be allowed entry there, starting September, he said.

Scientific info

Adora said the BFAR, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, was studying Benham Rise to determine the fish species there and the best time to venture out to sea. A research vessel sent by the agency will provide scientific information to Philippine commercial fishers so they can retrofit their ships for fishing in the eastern seaboard. According to BFAR officials, the currents are unlike other fishing grounds in the Western Pacific high seas and the West Philippine Sea because the area is on the path of typhoons. The BFAR study is expected to be finished by yearend.

Sam Miguel
01-28-2013, 08:19 AM
Challenge China

Philippine Daily Inquirer

1:11 am | Monday, January 28th, 2013

The government’s decision to challenge China’s expansive claims to the South China Sea by invoking the arbitration provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) is both unexpected and overdue. Many simply assumed that the government’s legal option (its so-called third track of resolving the conflict in territorial and maritime claims, after political means and diplomatic measures) meant filing a case before the right court; in this case, the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, or Itlos, in Hamburg, Germany. At the same time, the clear and compelling arguments for the Philippine case fed a growing impatience for legal action; why was the Department of Foreign Affairs taking so long?

Officially, the DFA answer is that it wanted to try all other avenues for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in claims. “Having exhausted all possible initiatives, we feel the time to act is now. If we do not act now, we will be in default,” was the second item in the prepared Q & A list the DFA distributed on the day it announced the legal action. But it is no secret that the administration needed the time, not only to prepare its case, but to study its legal choices carefully.

On initial view, it seems that the government has chosen well. Lawyer Harry Roque, an expert in international law and a Socratic gadfly in Philippine politics, praised the action, in particular the framing of our case: “credit goes to the Solicitor General [Francis Jardeleza] because our submission of claims is crafted in a manner that will exclude all of China’s reservations,” he wrote in a commentary published in these pages.

What the government has done is to begin the proceedings of ad hoc arbitration (the third of four possible means of resolving disputes involving Unclos)—essentially calling on China to co-form an arbitration panel to resolve only one aspect of the dispute: claims about waters and the continental shelf. (The Unclos does not apply to conflicting claims involving islands.) As the DFA explained: “China’s nine-dash line claim encompasses practically the entire West Philippine Sea (WPS). We must challenge the unlawful claim of China under their nine-dash line in order to protect our national territory and maritime domain.”

After the DFA handed a note verbale explaining the legal action to the Chinese ambassador in Manila, the Chinese embassy predictably reiterated the official Chinese position that the conflicting claims be resolved through bilateral talks. “The Chinese side strongly holds [that] the disputes on South China Sea should be settled by parties concerned through negotiations,” an embassy statement read.

But China only insists on direct negotiations in those disputes where it sees itself as enjoying an advantage. That makes any attempt to resolve the conflict over claims subject to Beijing’s increasingly assertive exercise of its new superpower status, rather than a reasoned discourse over legal and historical evidence.

When China suffers from a disadvantage, however, multilateral dispute-resolution mechanisms become an option. In its dispute with Japan over a handful of islands in the East China Sea, which the Japanese call Senkaku and the Chinese Diaoyu, for example, Tokyo enjoys the distinct advantage of possession. To counter this advantage, Beijing filed a submission before the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (another Unclos forum) just last month seeking information “concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in part of the East China Sea.”

This is the same commission that declared early last year that the massive Benham Rise (in potentially oil-rich waters to the east of Luzon) is officially a part of the Philippines.

Whether Beijing will agree, in the Philippine case, to the arbitration procedure outlined in the very Law of the Sea which anchors its submission in the Japanese dispute remains to be seen. It seems to have learned its lessons from the example of the other superpower, the United States, in dealing selectively with multilateral forums. To be sure, the arbitration provisions under the so-called Annex VII themselves allow for compulsory proceedings; Article 9 includes the principle that “Absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings.”

With this legal challenge, the issue, finally, is joined.

03-30-2017, 08:07 AM
'What?s wrong with China sending research ships to Benham Rise?'

By: Christine O. Avenda?o - Reporter / @10avendanoINQ

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:40 AM March 30, 2017

"What is harmful about having a research ship there?"

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon posed the question to reporters on Wednesday, defending the government's decision to allow China to send ships to Benham Rise, a resource-rich submerged landmass off the eastern coast of the Philippines.

Esperon, a former military chief of staff, attended a hearing called by the Senate on a bill establishing a body that would manage the development of Benham Rise.

The hearing also focused on the presence of a Chinese survey vessel on Benham Rise that authorities monitored from November 2016 to January this year.

Duterte's admission

President Duterte has admitted he allowed China to send ships to the 24-million hectare Benham Rise, which the United Nations has declared part of the Philippines' continental shelf.

Mr. Duterte's admission stirred a controversy, with Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV saying the President had committed an impeachable offense and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano actually filing an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives against the Chief Executive.

Esperon told the Senate commitees on economic affairs and finance that Mr. Duterte had invited countries to send their ships to the Philippines.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was authorized to allow entry of foreign vessels wanting to conduct marine research in the country's territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

"It has to be government to government? [But] the exercise of giving permits could be exercised by the President whether it's done verbal or not," Esperon said.

Not innocent passage

He said the Chinese vessel monitored on Benham Rise conducted "biological and hydrographic surveys but we have no indication it was surveying what's on the seabed as of now."

Asked by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, the economic affairs committee chair, about Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's statement that the Chinese vessel stayed for three months in the area and moved around, making him believe its presence was not innocent passage, Esperon said: "That?s right. Three months lingering in the area is not really simply innocent passage or freedom of navigation."

"Research was conducted but it could not be established where it was conducted?whether it was outside the EEZ or not because [the vessel] went down ultimately," he said.

Esperon said the Chinese vessel?s presence could have been a "potential breach," but quickly added "it being a research ship, which did not conduct any sonar research on the seabed, I would not put it [on] the security fence but rather on the economic side of things."

Breach of protocol

Asked whether the Chinese survey vessel applied to the DFA for a maritime scientific research permit, Ma. Lourdes Montero, acting executive director and officer in charge of the DFA Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office, said she was not sure whether the vessel was covered by past applications.

Montero said the DFA denied China's applications for permits for maritime scientific research on the Benham Rise in 2015 and 2016 because Filipino scientists had no role in the activity.

Asked by Gatchalian if the Chinese vessel?s presence on Benham Rise was a breach of protocol, Montero replied that she could not say, because the DFA had no complete details ?on the coordinates and what the vessel was doing there.?

Montero said the DFA sent a note verbale to China over the incident and that Beijing had made statements that it was exercising freedom of navigation.

Esperon told reporters after the hearing that research ships should seek permission from the DFA, although "there is already a general invitation from the President."

He declined to say whether there was breach of protocol, asking, "What is harmful about having a research ship there?"

"In fact we should be joining them," Esperon added.

He said there were discussions to "perfect" the process of applying for maritime scientific research in the country.

"The idea is not to exclude any country there in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone) because after all, fisheries for one should be enjoyed by mankind and fish can move inside or outside EEZ," he said.

After the hearing, Gatchalian told reporters it was "inconclusive" whether there was a breach of protocol since Manila and Beijing were still in discussion of the Philippine note verbale.

"From my understanding, [China was] allowed to go to the Philippines, but they also have to go through a special process. Now the policy and process must be synchronized," he said.

03-30-2017, 08:24 AM
China can?t conduct surveys at Benham Rise ? Justice Carpio

By: Tetch Torres-Tupas - Reporter / @T2Tupas

INQINQUIRER.net / 09:26 PM March 14, 2017

The Chinese government cannot conduct seismic surveys to look for oil, gas and minerals at Benham Rise, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said in a statement.

Carpio, who was part of the Philippine delegation that argued before the United Nation's Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in 2015 and tapped by President Rodrigo Duterte as consultant in the territorial issues with China, said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has reserved the oil, gas and minerals in the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) to the Philippines.

The magistrate said that while Benham Rise is not part of the Philippine national territory, the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf confirmed that it is part of the ECS of the Philippines.

"We have sovereign rights over it because we have exclusive right to explore and exploit the oil, gas and other mineral resources in the area," Carpio said.

"If the Chinese vessels were conducting seismic surveys to look for oil, gas and minerals, then they could not do that because UNCLOS has reserved the oil, gas and minerals in the ECS to the Philippines," Carpio added.

But Carpio said other states like China have the right to conduct fishery research in Benham Rise "because the fish in ECS belongs to mankind."

Aside from fishery research, he said other countries like China can also conduct surveys on water salinity and water currents because the water column in the ECS also belongs to mankind.

China and other countries are also allowed to conduct depth soundings for navigational purposes because there is freedom of navigation in the ECS.

"If the Chinese vessels were looking for submarine passages and parking spaces, that would be part of freedom of navigation and the Philippines has no reason to complain," Carpio added.

There are recent reports that Chinese ships have been conducting oceanographic research in Benham Rise located about 250 kilometers east of Dinapigue, Isabela.

Justice Carpio is the one who wrote the SC decision that unanimously affirmed the constitutionality of the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law of 2009 which determine the Philippines 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

03-30-2017, 08:28 AM
'Benham Rise' agency sought to make resources exclusive to Filipinos

@VinceNonatoINQ, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Vince F. Nonato / 02:36 AM March 28, 2017

MANILA - In a bid to protect the maritime resources that are "rightfully ours" amid "abuse by other countries," yet another lawmaker has sought the creation of a government agency to manage the Benham Rise.

House Bill No. 5360, filed Monday, seeks the creation of Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority mandated to govern the resources and secure the region's exclusive use by Filipinos.

The BRPDA is a proposed National Economic and Development Authority-attached agency with a lifespan of 50 years that may be renewed for another 50.

Buhay Party-list Rep.Lito Atienza described the agency as a "technical government agency that would protect and manage Benham Rise to ensure that these natural resources that are rightfully ours would not be exploited and abused by other countries claiming it to be their own."

The authority is tasked with formulating policies and programs for the protection and sustainable development and utilization of all natural resources found in the 13-million hectare underwater plateau.

The proposed BRPDA will be tasked to coordinate with the government for the enactment of laws and executive issuances "to make sure the region's economic benefits are reserved and available exclusively to Filipinos only."

The proposed agency will also be in charge of building "any structure that would be deemed necessary in the implementation of its mandate."

Besides the implementation of laws and regulations and the maintenance of a database for the planning of programs, the BRPDA will also be tasked with promoting and paving the way for "public and private investments."

It will also be in charge of raising funds from sources besides government appropriations, and administering donations, private contributions and foreign assistance to be used in the development of Benham Rise.

BRPDA is also mandated with reviewing programs, projects and plans for the Benham Rise, to be submitted for the approval of the National Economic and Development Authority.

The authority will be headed by an administrator to be appointed by the President at the recommendation of the NEDA.

The bill provides for the creation of an 11-member board chaired by the NEDA director-general, with the BRPDA administrator acting as vice-chairperson.

The 11 board members include: the Secretaries of Environment and Natural Resources, Energy, Agriculture, Science and Technology, Finance, Tourism, Public Works and Highways, and National Defense, as well as one presidential appointee each from the business sector, the academe and non-government organizations.

Only the Philippines has staked a claim in the Benham Rise, which is located 250 kilometers east of the provinces of Isabela and Aurora. The United Nations in 2012 declared the underwater feature a part of the extended continental shelf.

This enlarged the country's exclusive economic zone, which is not territorial sea but an area where the nearest country can exercise exclusive sovereign rights for exploitation of resources.

But, the reported presence of a Chinese survey ship in the past few months triggered alarm amid an ongoing maritime dispute on the Philippines' western shores at the South China Sea.

Way back in July, Aurora Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo filed HB 1659 to seek the creation of the Benham Rise Development Authority, but this has remained pending with the House Committee on Government Enterprises and Privatization.

After Chinese activities were reported, Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed House Bill No. 5318 this month to seek the creation of the Benham Rise Development Commission. SFM

04-03-2017, 10:50 AM
Who owns Benham Rise?

By: Artemio V. Panganiban - @inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 12:16 AM April 02, 2017

Benham Rise, also known as Benham Plateau, is an elevated portion of the ocean floor about 250 kilometers east of Northern Luzon. It is said to have a humongous area of 24 million hectares (dwarfing Luzon's 10.5 million). Its sea depth varies from 50 to 5,000 meters.

Brief background. This geological feature is named after Adm. Andrew Benham who served in the US Navy during the American civil war.

Though huge and rich in mineral and other resources, it was largely ignored until the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (or Unclos) was signed on Dec. 10, 1982, in Jamaica, and "entered into force for the Philippines on 16 November 1994."

To preserve our rights under this international agreement, our Congress enacted, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo approved, Republic Act No. 9522 defining "the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippines." On Aug. 11, 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the law's constitutionality in Magallona vs Ermita, penned by Justice Antonio T. Carpio.

This law and the decision upholding it are significant because they paved the way for the approval on April 12, 2012, of the Philippine application to be internationally recognized as an "archipelagic state" by the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelfs (CLCS), inspiring a then Cabinet member to exclaim: "We own Benham Rise now!"

The exclamation was a little exaggerated and legally inaccurate (as I will later explain) but, indeed, the approval gave the Philippines the legal imprimatur to exploit and manage the natural resources of the littoral ocean.

Four exclusive rights. Specifically, the CLCS recognized the baselines established under RA 9522 from which arose our maritime rights to the:

1) "Territorial sea," to be counted 12 nautical miles (NM) from these baselines, in which the sovereignty of the Philippines as an "archipelagic state" extends beyond its land territory to "the air space over [the territorial sea] as well as to its bed and subsoil."

2) "Contiguous zone," to be counted 24 NM from the baselines so our country "may ? prevent infringement of its custom, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations?"

3) "Exclusive economic zone," to be counted 200 NM from the baselines, where our country has "sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and subsoil ? such as the production of energy from the water current and winds."

4) "Continental shelf," which "shall not exceed 350 NM from the baselines," also for the purpose of "exploring and exploiting its natural resources?" exclusively "in the sense that if the coastal State does not explore the continental shelf or exploit its natural resources, no one may undertake these activities without the express consent of the coastal State."

The approval by the CLCS of the baselines described under RA 9522 was not simple or easy because of the complicated curvature of the shoreline of Luzon and the various ways of computing the connecting points.

With this approval, the Philippine rights to Benham Rise have become incontestable, unlike our claims to the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal, which?despite our arbitration victory?are fraught with conflicts with other states, notably China.

In contrast, China has publicly conceded our maritime rights over Benham Rise, even if it, like all other states, is granted "innocent passage." And even here, the Philippines has the right 1) to "suspend temporarily" the right of innocent passage "if such suspension is essential for the protection of its security," and 2) to "designate sea lanes and air routes ? for the passage of foreign ships and aircraft."

So, who owns Benham Rise? We own the territorial sea (12 NM) but nobody owns the huge balance, except that the Philippines enjoys exclusive maritime rights over it in a somewhat similar way that we may not own the sidewalk adjacent to our homes but we have rights over it to protect our security, health and wellbeing.

04-03-2017, 03:48 PM
Can anyone really rule the South China Sea?

PUBLISHED NOV 20, 2016, 5:00 AM SGT

Countries jockey for control as if oceans could be tamed, claimed and fenced off like the land

Aileen San Pablo-Baviera

Wherever you go in the Philippines, the sea is never too far away.

I spent summers as a child lying on sunny beaches and playing in the waves. Sometimes we would go to an island where the white sand, framed by coconut trees, was uninterrupted save for the bleached driftwood filled with tiny crustaceans popping in and out of their burrows. Getting there required a 90-minute journey on a tiny boat with outriggers.

With luck, during the trip, you could peer into the aquamarine waters and see giant starfish and corals lurking just beneath the surface (or so it seemed, as they actually lay many fathoms deep). Sometimes a school of squid or flying fish would jump across the speeding boat and a few would land in your lap.

With such childhood memories, the sea always beckoned. But I never anticipated that such a big part of my professional life would be spent trying to understand why my country, the Philippines, and many of its neighbours would be quarrelling over the reefs, waters and resources of the South China Sea.

China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also make claims on the sea. Over the years, some claimant states have set up armed garrisons and military bases, constructed concrete installations over hitherto unspoiled reefs and unilaterally enforced domestic jurisdictions over fishing grounds, fighting wars of words and filing legal suits over who should have jurisdiction over what and on what basis.

It seems that governments have let their primordial territorial instincts rule them.

Much of the marine life in the depths of the South China Sea remains unexplored. The fish that traverse these seas migrate from one part to another, recognising no boundaries other than those created by changes in the temperature of the water column. But whereas before the fishermen and gatherers of marine products shared the same privileges as the fish, coming and leaving as they pleased, today they do so in fear of being chased away by flag-carrying patrol boats, at times with grey-hulled warships watching from a distance.

The contest is not only over the waters. Here in the South China Sea, competition rages over even the tiniest land features.

I have flown over the South China Sea countless times, and each time, if in the light of day, I crane my neck and look down from the plane in excited anticipation of spotting an atoll here, or an island there.

As I look down at the smallness of the land features, and the distances between them in proportion to the vast expanse of ocean, I cannot help but think of how presump- tuous and foolish men are to think that this all belongs to certain countries because once upon a time, some person named or mapped or fished or navigated here before anyone else did.

These reefs and shoals, these waters, were here long before today's modern nation-states emerged, and they will be here long after many have passed from the scene.

Pag-asa Island is one such disputed island, occupied by the Philippines since the early 1970s. It now has a civilian population trying to eke out a livelihood, because while the island is beautiful, such beauty does not guarantee one's survival.

During my first visit nearly 20 years ago, the only settlement was a platoon of soldiers, among them battle-scarred marines, that had been deployed to defend the Philippine claim. At that time, they spoke (without complaining) of what, to them, must have been an enemy worse than a foreign armed force: boredom, isolation and not knowing what was happening at sea and beyond. Pitch-dark nights were often the loneliest, they said, save for the occasional whirring of low hovering aircraft most likely sent by a rival claimant state to spy on them.

There is bound to be less loneliness and isolation now, because many of these erstwhile uninhabitable places have been enlarged and a few transformed into veritable bases with new harbours, airstrips and hangars. China has been singled out for the scale and speed and seeming impudence of its island construction activities, but other countries have built as well.

The Philippines has refrained from following suit, and opted to promote its maritime rights on the stage of international law and international public opinion.

The contest in the South China Sea has, however, changed.

While previous decades saw disputes over valuable rights to natural resources, the area now looks more squarely like a playground for big powers' competition.

The stakes include control over vital sea lanes of navigation for commercial as well as military vessels, and over airspace considered critical by certain countries to their defence. The geopolitical situation has only complicated what were already complex territorial and maritime jurisdiction disagreements. Indeed, the disputes are so complicated that no solutions are near.

Recently, I was on a six-day cruise in the East China Sea that started in Shanghai and docked in Okinawa, Nagasaki and Fukuoka.

We were a group of about 20 international relations experts from 15 countries, jointly hosted by Peace Boat, a Japanese non-governmental organisation engaged in peace advocacy, and the China Foreign Affairs University.

The outlook of these two organisations could not have been more different, which made their effort at cooperating to host this conversation about China's relations with its neighbours all the more impressive.

When not conferencing on the boat, I spent some time on deck watching the sun rise from the sea and set into the sea, day after day.

Looking out into the seemingly limitless ocean, one could not help but have a sense of being free from territorial boundaries. I thought of how being creatures of the land has taught most of us to think in terms of the state and its narrow interests.

Just exactly at such a moment, another passenger standing beside me - also looking out at sea - nodded his head in one direction and said: "That is where the Senkakus are, not too far from here. That is where Japan and China might yet end up having a war over their contested islands."

I envy the free creatures of the sea, for we creatures of the land have become captive of our own illusions of conquest and control.

Aileen San Pablo-Baviera is the president of Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation and a professor at the University of the Philippines.