House Bill (HB) 5360, which seeks to create a technical government agency that would protect and manage Benham Rise in the South China Sea, has been filed by Buhay party-list representative and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza.
“Our bill seeks to create the Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority, which will protect and manage this vast area and to ensure that all natural resources that are rightfully ours would not be exploited and abused by other countries claiming it to be their own. It has been established that this area contains very essential natural gases and other minerals, as well as diverse marine life, including endangered species of fish,” Atienza said on Monday.
As then-Environment secretary, Atienza was instrumental in the inclusion of Benham Rise in the Philippines’ extended continental shelf.
The inclusion was presented to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in 2009 and was subsequently approved on April 12, 2012.
This gave the Philippines exclusive control over the area, together with utilization of any and all natural resources within.
“Our country has sovereign rights over this protected economic development area. It is our duty and mandate today to defend this resource-rich territory, not just for us but for future generations of Filipinos,” Atienza said.
Under HB 5360, the Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority will be headed by the Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority as Chairman of the Board, an Administrator as Vice Chairman, together with eleven other board members composed of the secretaries of the Environment, Energy, Agriculture, Science and Technology, Finance, Tourism, Public Works and Defense departments.
Three representatives from the private sector will also be appointed to the board.
Atienza reminded President Rodrigo Duterte that aside from addressing the drug problem, there is an equally pressing need to defend not only Panatag Shoal also in the South China Sea but especially Benham Rise from any foreign incursion.
“It is wrong to say [that we cannot do anything]. The whole nation is behind him in defending our territorial interests. Mr. President, every Filipino will fight with you to repel any and all attempts at foreign domination. While we agree with government’s policy to be friends with the world’s superpowers, we should not be subservient to anyone,” he said.