DAVAO CITY, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has assured Filipinos that they hold ownership over Benham Rise.
"The Philippine Rise or the Benham Rise is ours," Duterte told reporters at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on Friday, February 9. (FAST FACTS: What you should know about Benham Rise)
Duterte was briefing the media on the updates of the death of Filipina worker Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found stored inside a freezer in Kuwait, when he segued into the country's territorial dispute with China.
He mentioned Benham Rise – a 13-million hectare underwater plateau off the coast of Aurora – as he discussed how he balanced protecting the nation's interest and keeping cordial ties with foreign states like China.
"No country, as long as I'm President, no country can bring us into trouble. Be it Korea, be it North Korea," he said.
The President reiterated his new foreign policy towards China, and why he decided to take on a friendlier approach towards the regional giant in the South China Sea dispute by keeping quiet, for now, on the Philippines' victory over China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
"China, we are not prepared to deal with arms with you. We'll just end up with the slaughter of my soldiers," he said.
In March last year, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang claimed that the Philippines cannot claim ownership over Benham Rise.
Nearly a year after the Chinese official's claim, Duterte said: "But Benham Rise or the Philippine Rise belongs to the Philippines. We will claim exclusive ownership of the economic zones."
In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Contintental Shelf (UNCLCS) confirmed Benham Rise as part of the Philippines' continental shelf. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the continental shelf comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas 200 nautical miles (NM), or 370 kilometers, from a state's baselines or “edges.” – Rappler.com