PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has signed an executive order officially changing the name of Benham Rise, an undersea region that is part of Philippine territory, to “Philippine Rise,” months after reports of Chinese activity in the area.
Executive Order 25, signed by the President on May 16 and released to the media on Monday, states that “the undersea feature presently known as ‘Benham Rise’ in local and international maps and charts, shall henceforth be referred to as the ‘Philippine Rise.’”
“In the exercise of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction, the Philippines has the exclusive power to designate its submarine areas with appropriate nomenclature for purposes of the national mapping system,” Duterte said in the EO.
The President tasked the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria) to indicate the name “Philippine Rise,” in lieu of the name Benham Rise, in all official maps and charts of the Philippines.
He also instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in consultation with Namria and other concerned agencies, to transmit the appropriate notifications to international organizations.
The EO described the Philippine Rise region as a 24-million hectare area “located within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, as well as the outer limits of the continental shelf in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf issued on 12 April 2012.”
“The Benham Rise Region is subject to the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines pursuant to relevant provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, national legislation, the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea), and applicable international law,” the EO added.
Duterte renamed Benham Rise to Philippine Rise following reports that Chinese vessels were seen patrolling near the Philippine-owned territory for three months in 2016.
Malacañang had said Duterte wanted to change the name of Benham Rise to “emphasize the Philippine sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the area.”
The President had earned criticism for supposed inaction on China’s presence on Benham Rise. In April, he admitted that he gave China a green light to conduct research activities near the underwater landmass but claimed China was not inclined to claim Benham Rise.
The new EO was also released days after Duterte’s revelation that China had threatened to use force against the Philippines if it extracted oil from Recto (Reed) Bank, part of the Kalayaan (Spratly) group of islands.
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella on Monday reiterated that the country would not give up its rights on the territory and would pursue its claims through peaceful means.
“We are very clear that we are not giving up our claim of sovereignty and sovereign rights over certain islands in the South China Sea, at the same time, these matters are pursued in the context of maintaining peace and prosperity in the region,” Abella said.