By Sara Fabunan
Manila Standard Today
The United Nations needed only to complete one more procedure before it completely awarded the ownership of Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines, the Senate was told on Thursday.
National Mapping and Resources Information Authority administrator Peter Tiangco said they had already submitted the maps of the area including its technical description a month ago.
The remaining step for the Philippines to officially and legally own Benham Rise was for the UN to publish its agreement and the territorial “binding” to all countries around the world.
Tiangco said the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf recently adopted the Philippines’ claim to the area.
Benham Rise is one of the country’s “unexploited” fishing grounds, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. The agency is now assessing the area’s marine resources.
Also known as Benham Plateau, the massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, has been described in studies as a add to UN…thickened portion of the Philippine sea plate’s oceanic crust.
According to the Environment Department, 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, according to the Bureau of Fisheries.
Tiangco debunked claims that China might also claim Benham Rise, saying the area lay in the eastern part of the Philippines 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,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs department said on Friday that it would “find out first which area” China was planning to bid out service contracts for joint oil exploration before they take any action.
“We need to find out first which area China is planning to bid out service contracts for the joint exploration. When we have the details, we will act accordingly,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
In late June, Beijing invited foreign firms to bid on nine oil and gas blocks that overlap a territory also being explored by Vietnam. The blocks total 160,000 square kilometers of water on offer.
“We need exact locations. We have to verify first the exact areas,” Hernandez said, adding that the department would not release a statement until after it had confirmed that the bidding for joint oil exploration fell within Philippine maritime territory.
Manila earlier opened its own bids to foreign companies on three sites that are considered primary sources of oil and gas deposits in the West Philippine Sea.
On Tuesday, the Energy Department announced it already received bids to explore for oil deposits in two West Philippine Sea areas also being claimed by China.
Energy undersecretary Jose Layug Jr. said the areas to be explored were located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile economic exclusive zone as provided by the United Nations on Conventions on the Law of the Sea.