MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) belongs to the Philippines, after several opposition figures questioned the government’s approval of a Chinese request to explore the resource-rich waters.
“Benham Rise is ours. The continental shelf that extends [from it], if it reaches Guam then Guam is ours,” Duterte said in jest during a press conference in Davao City.
“Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino. We will claim exclusive ownership of the economic zones, 200 nautical miles.”
The Duterte administration was heavily criticized after it was revealed that it allowed China to conduct research on Benham Rise, a resource-rich underwater plateau located east of Isabela which the United Nations in 2012 awarded as an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
Amid criticism over the approval of the research work, the government announced stricter rules for foreign researchers seeking to explore Benham Rise.
China has an ongoing dispute with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations over South China Sea. It has conducted reclamation works in the sea’s Spratly islands and was reported to have almost finished building military facilities in the area.
Critics say the Duterte administration was undermining Manila’s interests by allowing the Chinese to conduct research on Benham Rise.