Defend Benham Rise!
By Joe America
Most Filipinos do not know of Benham Rise. It is time to end this little shard of ignorance. The well-being of every Filipino born and yet to be born depends on it. Benham Rise is one of those grand historical moments, a flash point like the Alamo or the fictional “Bridge on the River Kwai“, where a nation’s well-being is destined to be defended at all costs, for it is that important.
President Duterte’s stand is predictably conflicted, which is not good. He has instructed the Navy to build something out there. (“Wary of China, Duterte tells navy to build ‘structures’ east of Philippines“; Reuters). He has also given China a green light to survey. (“China appreciates Duterte’s friendly stance on Benham research vessels“; GMA News).
What is Benham Rise?
Benham Rise is a huge underwater plateau, an extension of the continental shelf upon which the Philippines rests. The area is just about the same size as Luzon. It is an amazing and largely untapped region of promise.
Because the plateau is covered by water, rights of free passage are granted to other nations in the surrounding Philippine Sea. Global laws permit that. But economic rights belong to the Philippines.
Under President Arroyo, the Philippines took the step of applying to the United Nations for official certification that Benham Rise is a part of the continental shelf upon which the Philippines rests. This was a huge undertaking, a huge investment in the future of the nation. Contributing to the Philippine presentation were institutions in Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, Germany, and Japan.
The 2009 filing is presented in detail in the linked “Executive Summary” document. Even the summary is technical, detailing specific geographic points and the legal basis for the underwater features belonging to the Philippines.
On April 12, 2012, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the application, making only minor adjustments to the Philippine line-drawing. Click on the link and you will get to the official document, with all its technical details and pretty maps.
What do the lines mean?
This larger map gives a good picture of the lay of the lines.
The red line is the Baseline that shows the edge of the Philippine land territory. The green line is the all important 200 nautical mile wide area that represents the Philippine “Exclusive Economic Zone”, or EEZ. The yellow line represents the additional seabed added to the Philippine sphere of economic control by the UN certification. It is called the “New Outer Limit Line”.
The legal documents spend most of their time detailing this extension, for example, defining exactly where the “Molave Spur” extends to. The red dots are survey guideposts from which the yellow line is drawn.
Because there are no islands or rock formations in this area of the Philippine Sea, neither China nor any other country has a basis for historical claim to the Benham Rise Plateau. Without question, the resources and monetary values represented by this underwater land mass belong to the Philippines. That is what the UN finding certified. Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice explains the situation clearly:
The Philippines does not own the land (China can argue that point accurately), but she holds exclusive mineral and economic rights to the entire region.
Therein lies the huge possible conflict that, for the Philippines, is worth defending at all costs.
Why is Benham Rise so important?
What’s there? Known reserves of methane in solid state. Important minerals. Possibly huge reserves of oil. (“10 Things to know about Benham Rise“; update.ph)
Much of the Philippine electrical energy production is now fueled by the giant Malampaya natural gas field near Palawan. That resource is drying up, with its official end-of life now estimated to be in 2024. Some gas may still be available until about 2030, but the huge demands of a growing nation will no longer be satisfied by Malampaya. (“Malampaya gas field can fuel plants after 2030“; Rappler)
The Philippines must find new sources of fuel for energy to support its population and economic growth. China’s acquisition of rocks and islands in the West Philippine Sea cut the Philippines off from drilling for oil and gas there. Exploration was halted. Leasing of drilling sites was halted.
China took those opportunities from the Philippines.
It was highly disturbing to many, if not the President, that China had ships out surveying Benham Rise. (“Chinese survey ship spotted in Benham Rise, says defense chief“; ABS-CBN News).
China’s presence there ought to strike fear or claustrophobia or whatever emotions accompany the knowledge that acquisitive China has the power . . . but not the right . . . to take Benham Rise, and all its riches, from the Philippines.
The issue couldn’t be more stark.
If the Philippines wishes to stand as a sovereign, independent, prosperous nation, her rights to Benham Rise must be defended. The nation must hold onto the promise of Benham Rise or remain impoverished and weak and little more than a dilapidated, shanty nation begging for alms from China.
Benham Rise represents sovereign self-determination . . . and the path to modernism and prosperity for the Philippines. Nothing less.