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Thread: Philippines moves to claim, secure Benham Rise

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  1. #1

    Philippines moves to claim, secure Benham Rise

    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.
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  2. #2
    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.


 
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