The Philippine has sovereign rights over Benham Rise but the country does not have sovereignty over it, this is the clarification made by stanched West Philippine Sea defender Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio as shared by former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III.
“Benham rise is not part of Philippine national territory because we do not have sovereignty over Benham Rise. However, we have sovereign rights (less than sovereignty) over Benham Rise because we have exclusive right to explore and exploit the oil, gas and other mineral resources in Benham Rise which has been confirmed by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as part of the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) of the Philippines (which is outside Philippine EEZ),” Carpio said in Alunan’s post.
According to UNCLOS, “the continental shelf of a coastal State comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea.”
Moreover, Article 77 Paragraph 1 of UNCLOS says “the coastal State exercises over the continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.”
Further, Article 78 Paragraph 2 says “the exercise of the rights of the coastal State over the continental shelf must not infringe or result in any unjustifiable interference with navigation and other rights and freedoms of other States as provided for in this Convention.”
Jusctice Carpio added that “other states, like China, have the right to conduct in Benham rise (1) fishery research because the fish in the ECS belongs to mankind; (2) surveys on water salinity and water currents because the water column in the ECS belongs to mankind; and (3) depth soundings for navigational purposes because there is freedom of navigation in the ECS.”
He noted that if the Chinese vessels were looking for submarine passages and parking spaces, that would be part of freedom of navigation and the Philippines has no reason to complain. Adding that if the Chinese vessels were conducting seismic surveys to look for oil, gas and minerals, then they could not do that because UNLCOS has reserved the oil, gas and minerals in the ECS to the Philippines.
Under UCLOS, a coastal State is also granted sovereign rights over its EEZ “for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds.”
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Charles Jose said “strengthening our capability is our way to assert and protect our sovereign rights and jurisdiction over our maritime entitlements.”