Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto today called on the executive department to immediately craft a comprehensive strategy aimed at protecting Benham Rise, a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora, from foreign incursion.
“No ifs or buts. The government must have a ‘Benham Rise Protection Strategy’. A comprehensive strategy – military, diplomatic, economic – in holding on to and developing Benham Rise,” Recto said.
“We cannot be caught unaware. There should be no Pearl Harbor moment that will surprise us that other countries have installed themselves on what by law is part of our territory,” he added.
Recto issued the statement following reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has sent a note verbale to the Chinese embassy to clarify the reported presence of a Chinese survey ship near Benham Rise.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had reported the Chinese survey ship was seen plying the waters of Benham Rise for around 3 months.
Without a protection strategy, Recto said the Benham Rise may easily fall prey not only to poachers but foreign countries interested in exploring the plateau’s marine and mineral resources.
“We have practically lost the seas west and north of us. We cannot be encircled. The Eastern side of the country should be defended as well,” the senator said.
Recto, however, was quick to explain that “I am not referring to one country.”
“I am not singling out China. But this goes out to all countries who might be tempted by the riches underneath the Benham Rise,” he added.
Aside from diverse marine life, Benham Rise is also believed to be a rich source of manganese and natural gas.
“We should not allow that area to be partitioned like a frontier homestead. Or cut up into blocks to be controlled and exploited by others,” Recto said.
“That area is crucial to our future. If there are gas deposits, it will power our future. It is a fishing area too. With large swaths of our western seas now declared a no catch zone to our fishermen, this will provide an alternative venue,” he pointed out.
Recto said the government must also focus its attention not only on Benham Rise, but other areas on the Pacific side of the country which have lagged economically.
“The Pacific side has always been the unattended portion of our archipelago. Maraming lugar diyan na underdeveloped. It is time for us to pivot,” he stressed.
Recto said the Senate, for its part, should consider expediting a bill filed by Sen. Sonny Angara providing for the creation of a Benham Rise Development Authority – the lead agency that will be mandated to conduct scientific research and exploration in the plateau.
Once equipped with such information, the BRDA shall take the lead in formulating and implementing a development roadmap for Benham Rise, ensuring that it is aligned with the Philippine Development Plan.