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Atienza: China’s naming of Benham Rise features has no impact

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Beijing’s move to assign Chinese names to five seamounts in Benham Rise or the Philippine Rise does not have any impact on the sovereign rights that Manila enjoys over the 13 million-hectare extinct underwater volcano ridge, Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza said on Sunday.

The House senior deputy minority leader said, ”Those Chinese labels will not diminish the fact that under international law, Benham is part of the Philippine continental shelf. And all the natural resources found in the waters, seabed and subsoil of Benham belong to the Philippines and form part of our national wealth.”

Just the same, Atienza urged the Philippine government to proceed and give Filipino names to every seamount in Benham Rise.

Atienza said that when he was Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, he had Benham surveyed by the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) between 2007 and 2008, in connection with the Philippine government’s submission to the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Atienza said the Philippine government was then required to tender for approval the particulars of the outer limits of the Philippine continental shelf.

“We had a May 2009 deadline to present the outer perimeters of the Philippine continental shelf before the UN, along with supporting scientific and technical data,” Atienza said.

“And when the Philippine government under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo finally submitted the limits of our continental shelf, we made it a point to include Benham as within our limits,” Atienza said.

“Mrs. Arroyo was aware of our decision to include Benham as inside our limits, because we elevated the matter to her, and she instantly approved it,” Atienza said.

Unlike the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea, Atienza said no other state was claiming Benham at that time, so the Philippine government’s submission was eventually approved by the UN on April 12, 2012 — long after a new administration had taken over.

With the UN approval, Atienza said the Philippines now enjoys the exclusive right to exploit all living as well as non-living resources inside Benham.

“Only Filipinos can actually fish in Benham now,” according to Atienza, who earlier filed a bill proposing to create the Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority “to ensure that all resources that are rightfully ours would not be exploited and abused by other countries claiming it to be their own.”

Atienza said Benham could be of great economic value to future generations of Filipinos, considering the region’s rich marine resources and massive deposits of metal-bearing nodules.