The Philippines most capable warship the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) deployed in Benham Rise in the midst of reports that Chinese survey ships were spotted there late last year.
A TV report from ABS-CBN on Thursday demonstrated BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) heading in Benham rise to conduct territorial patrol, which is located off the Philippines’ east coast.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that they plan to step up their patrols over the 12-million hectare undersea plateau that is within the 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf of the Philippines after he exposed that Chinese survey ships were monitored last year.
BRP Alcaraz was the first known warship deployment of a government asset after Lorenzana uncovered China’s enthusiasm to Benham Rise.
BRP Alcaraz captain, Commander Jeff Rene Nadugo said that if they spotted any Chinese ships during the patrol, they would have challenged China and questioned their presence there.
He told ABS-CBN that “meron tayong protocol kung sakaling nakita ay i-challenge natin kung ano intention, kung ano purpose. Kung intent ay research eh hindi nararapat kelangan pakiusapan umalis (We have a protocol; had we seen them, we would have challenged their intention and asked for their purporse. If their intent was to conduct a search, we would not allow it and ask them to leave).”
Benham Rise is not part of China’s nine-dash-line claim.
Benham Rise is an extension of the Philippines continental shelf and was granted to the Philippines by the United Nations in 2012.
Benham Rise is an underwater plateau that stretches from the coasts of Cagayan and Bicol up to approximately 300-350 nautical miles (nm) in the Pacific Ocean. A large part of this plateau is within the 200 nm Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf of the Philippines. An additional area of seabed extending around 150 nm was successfully claimed by the Philippines as its “extended continental shelf” (ECS) in accordance with Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The region may not be “territory” in the same sense as land territory, but it is definitely “territory” for the purposes of Philippine laws and regulations over natural resources. The 1987 Constitution considers as legally part of the National Territory all areas over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction; Benham Rise falls squarely within this definition.
Within 200 nm, the Philippines has exclusive sovereign rights to explore for, and exploit, living and non-living natural resources of both the water column (the EEZ) and the seabed beneath (the continental shelf). “Sovereign rights” may not be the same as full “sovereignty,” and people usually confuse these two terms. It is like confusing a person’s rights over property he holds under lease and rights to property he holds as a full owner. But the fact that the former is of a different status than the other does not make them any less enforceable under law.
These waters are subject to high seas freedoms available to all nations (including freedom of navigation and overflight), but such freedoms must be exercised in a way that respects, and gives due regard to, the sovereign rights of the Philippines. In addition, the Philippines has the right to regulate and participate in any marine scientific research (MSR) conducted in this area.
Beyond 200 nm, but within the area of the ECS, the water column is considered to be part of the high seas subject to the common rights and freedoms of all States. But the seabed underneath is still subject to the exclusive sovereign rights of the Philippines for purposes of exploration and exploitation of seabed resources. No other State may carry out activities for these purposes in the seabed in this area, even though they may exercise rights and freedoms on the waters above it. This is the area that was recognized by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) to be the Philippines’ ECS
China claimed the issue on Benham Rise has been “hyped up” and they fully respect the Philippines’ maritime rights there.
However, China remains involved in a sea dispute with the Philippines over the West Philippine sea (South China Sea) even as the relationship between the two nations has enhanced when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office a year ago. – JCE.