Benham's huge economic value makes new agency imperative - solon

Map from FIS.COM shows the location of Benham Rise relative to the main island of Luzon, on the country's Pacific side. means BUSINESS

MANILA - Benham Rise is of great economic value to future generations of Filipinos, based on, among others, the massive deposits of metal-bearing nodules found around the extinct volcano ridge, according to a lawmaker during whose watch as DENR secretary the Philippines included Benham Rise in the limits of its continental shelf.

House senior deputy minority leader and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said Sunday extensive work by the national mapping agency prior to the Philippines' formal submission to the UN - in compliance with an UNCLOS deadline  - had confirmed the resources.

He is set to file a bill to establish a Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority.

“The sea floor around Benham is covered with metal-rich chunks – manganese nodules that also contain nickel, copper, cobalt and other minerals,” Atienza, one-time Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, said.

Philippine experts had earlier cited Benham as an area rich in marine biodiversity.

Atienza clarified that there is no motivation at the moment to tap Benham's rich mineral resources, but nonetheless said it is crucial to include it among the considerations when planning how to protect and utilize the area.

NAMRIA findings

The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) previously explored Benham, and found exceptionally high concentrations of manganese nodules on the seabed, according to Atienza.

“We had Benham surveyed by NAMRIA between 2007 and 2008, in connection with the Philippine government’s submission with respect to the limits of the Philippine continental shelf,” Atienza said.

Under the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines was required - under a deadline - to tender for approval the particulars of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Atienza explained.

“We had a May 2009 deadline to present the outer perimeters before the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, along with supporting scientific and technical data,” he said.

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

He pointed out that unlike the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea, no other state was claiming Benham at that time, so the Philippine government’s submission was approved by the UN in 2012.

Exclusive rights

With the approval of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Atienza said the Philippines now enjoys exclusive rights to harvest mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of the Benham region.

The Philippines has exclusive control over living
resources "attached" to the Benham region. “Thus, only Filipinos may fish in Benham,” he stressed.

Benham is located in the Philippine Sea, some 250 kilometers east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.

“With respect to Benham’s metal deposits, whether or not the manganese nodules there will ever be harvested, only time will tell,” Atienza said.

“Right now, there is no incentive to scoop these deposits, simply because there are enough metals mineable on land. But in the future, these metal-rich nodules under the sea could have tremendous economic value,” he said.

Being east of Luzon, Benham could not possibly be claimed by China, Atienza said

“China would have to cross over Luzon, and claim the whole of Luzon, before it could claim Benham,” Atienza said.