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MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations (UN) needs to do just one last thing to completely award ownership of the Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines – publish its concurrence in and adoption on the country’s claim, the Senate was told on Thursday.
“After we have submitted the maps containing the nits and bounds of the area including the technical descriptions which were sent to them more than a month ago, the remaining step for the country’s total and legal ownership of the area is to publish it by the UN, and it will be binding on all countries around the world,” Administrator Peter Tiangco of the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority (NAMRIA) said on Thursday.
Speaking after the performance review hearing of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) at the Senate, Tiangco said the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which follows the rules of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), recently adopted the country’s position on the ownership of Benham Rise.
“We have lots of meetings in the UN. Then after the hearing, the commission will decide if they are going to adopt our claim, and fortunately, they have adopted our recommendations, they informed us last April, and the next step is they will ask us if we agree to their recommendation. But of course, so we concurred and submitted the map containing all the technical data of the area,’ he said.
Tiangco debunked claims that China might stake a “claim” over the area since Benham rise lies in the eastern part of the country on the Pacific Ocean, where there is no island or country nearby. The prescription period for protest has lapsed, and China did not lodge any such protest.
Exploration in DOE’s hand
With this, Tiangco urged the Department of Energy (DOE) to immediately explore the area for possible mineral resources like manganese, hydrate and natural gas on the assumption that all offshore resources of countries around the world come from the continental shelf.
“We can now bid it out to possible investors for exploration [projects through] the Department of Energy. In order to understand what kind of mineral resources are underneath, you have to explore,” he said.
“Aside from manganese, we can only make a conclusion from other explored areas. Hydrate, natural gas possibly. As we have not yet explored the area, we have to take samples by drilling. Virtually all the offshore resources of the world are located in the continental shelf . . . other than that we still have to explore it,” he said.
“The ball is now in the DOE’s court because our role is to prescribe our ownership on the area, on the exploration, within the ambit of DOE,” Tiangco said.
PH only owns the seabed and subsoil, not the waters
However, Tiangco clarified that only the seabed and the subsoil beneath it is owned by the country; not the water columns surrounding the area which can be explored and exploited by other countries for marine and aquatic use.
“Our claim to the Benham Rise is the seabed, what lies beneath it; and the water column is not ours, it is for everybody and you can explore for oil, extract oil, and other minerals in the area. But when it comes to the water column, [this is not part of the] entitlement approved by the United Nations,” Tiangco explained.
“Other countries can explore in the water columns, but not on the seabed and the sub-soil. All minerals under the sea bed and the subsoil are ours, “ he added.
Tiangco said that even if the present government fails to explore the area for lack of resources or technology, at least the next generation will “inherit the area from us today, that they can use in the future.”
“We’ve been told they [other countries and parties] are all clustered on the Western side; but this Benham Rise, it’s so huge and it’s clearly ours. No one can [lay] claim over the area, we have our own map of the seabed. But the most important here is we have secured the area,” he added, “if not for the present, then future generations.”.