The Navy will build permanent structures in Benham Rise in the next two years to establish its naval presence in the northeastern underwater territory also called the Philippine Rise, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Friday.
Three months ago, divers from the Philippine Navy planted the country’s flag in the underwater plateau seven meters below the water surface, off the coasts that stretch from Cagayan to Bicol. The area was declared by the United Nations in 2012 as part of the Philippine continental shelf.
“My estimate is that…if we have the fund and we get the correct technology, maybe in two years’ time we’ll be able to start [building]permanent structures. We want to have a platform where helicopters could land and we want a place for our ships to go near there and dock, on top of deploying marine biologists and other scientists,” Lorenzana told reporters in a news conference at the presidential palace.
Lorenzana, however, clarified that the establishment of a naval presence in nearby areas will take precedence over the permanent structures that have yet to be allocated any funds.
“Our plan [for]now is to establish a naval presence in Casiguran, considering that there is an airport there that is seldom used. The other one is in Polilio, which has been used by the Americans as an airstrip during World War 2. There’s another one at the tip of Cagayan. So, we’ll have three jump off points for our patrols,” Lorenzana told reporters.
The defense chief stressed that the imperative for the Philippine military is to protect Benham Rise around its whole stretch of 13 million hectares, as huge as Luzon, and is home to the blue fin tuna, the most expensive tuna in the world.
“Fishermen from other countries have been poaching there for a long time…from Taiwan, South Korea, China. Even Japan comes to Benham Rise. And we would like to protect what belongs to us. That’s our plan,” Lorenzana said.
“We have to protect our resources,” Lorenzana added.
The Benham Rise was designated as a “protected food supply exclusive zone” by the Philippine government in May 2017. The government banned mining and oil exploration in the plateau as a protected area. In the same month, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 25 renaming the region to Philippine Rise.