Benham Rise is of great economic value to future generations of Filipinos, based on the massive deposits of metal-bearing nodules found around the extinct volcano ridge, House senior deputy minority leader and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said on Sunday.
“The sea floor around Benham is covered with metal-rich chunks – manganese nodules that also contain nickel, copper, cobalt and other minerals,” Atienza, a former Environment secretary, said.
The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria) previously explored Benham and found exceptionally high concentrations of manganese nodules on the seabed, he said.
Atienza said he will file a bill that seeks to establish a Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority.
“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 to tender for approval the particulars of the outer limits of its continental shelf.
“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 our continental shelf, we made it a point to include Benham as within our limits,” Atienza said.
“Mrs. Arroyo was aware of our decision to include Benham, because we elevated the matter to her, and she approved it,” he added.
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.
With the approval of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Atienza said the Philippines now enjoys exclusive right to harvest mineral and non-living material in the subsoil of the Benham region.
The lawmaker also said the Philippines has exclusive control over living resources “attached” to the Benham region. “Thus, only Filipinos may fish in Benham,” he said.
Benham is located some 250 kilometers east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.
“China would have to cross over Luzon and claim the whole of Luzon, before it could claim Benham,” Atienza said.
“With respect to Benham’s metal deposits, whether or not the manganese nodules there will ever be harvested, only time will tell. 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 added.