Manila: The move by President Rodrigo Duterte to formalise the Philippines’ claim on the erstwhile “Benham Rise” off the country’s eastern coast has drawn mixed reaction from legislators.
Representative Gary Alejano of the Magdalo Partylist, a vocal critic of the Philippine leader, said he supported the President’s move to formally declare the undersea feature as a Marine Resource Reserve and officially change the name of the Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.
The name change was contained in Executive Order No. 25 issued by Duterte on Tuesday.
Alejano, in an interview by the Bombo Radyo station, said he supported Duterte’s move, since it was in line with the Magdalo Partylists’ nationalist stance.
“It had been the advocacy of the party to protect the natural resources and maritime zones of the country,” he said.
It was one of the rare occasions that the party, made up of former military officers who took part in failed power grab attempts, agreed with the Philippine leader.
Likewise, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the move was vital in establishing Philippine claim on the undersea territory.
On Tuesday, Duterte, sent off a team of Filipino scientists to carry out undersea research in the territory. The presidential proclamation means that the Philippines has a formal claim to 50,000 hectares of the Philippine Rise.
The area shall become a Strict Protection Zone limited to scientific studies, while more than 300,000 hectares shall be designated as a Special Fisheries Management Area.
When the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the nation’s claim to the Philippine Rise a few years ago, the country was not just granted access to its vast resources, it was also entrusted with the responsibility to protect it from abuse and misuse, he added.
“Let us therefore explore this [new frontier] fully aware of our responsibility to [properly manage] and conserve its natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations of Filipinos,” he said.
On Wednesday, Filipino divers cast the first buoy in the Philippine Rise including the laying of a flag marker at the shallowest point of Benham Bank.
The President said that with the Philippines formally laying its claim on the Philippine Rise as part of its sovereign territory, other countries wanting to explore the area will have to get the consent of the government.
But not all heaped praises on Duterte for his gesture.
Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan said the Philippine Rise was clearly a part of the Philippine territory.
The concern, he said, was on the Western seaboard portion of the country where China has been unopposed in taking territory from the Philippines.
“On the other side of the Philippines, in our exclusive economic zone, in the territory where China has deployed anti-air and anti-ship missiles is where foreign militarisation on Philippine land and waters is happening,” he said.
He said Chinese missiles on Zamora Reef were about 13 nautical miles away from Pagasa Island, the largest Philippine-controlled island out of the nine features in Spratlys.
“On the western side of the country, our sovereignty is clearly violated, our security is threatened, and leadership is badly needed,” he said.