MANILA - The Philippines has sovereign rights, but not sovereignty over Benham Rise. This was clarified by Presidential spokesman Harry Roque after a May 2017 statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the Philippine government cannot claim Benham Rise as its own territory was shared many times on social media.
The statement had cast doubt on China's plans to conduct explorations in Benham Rise.
Speaking to reporters, Roque said the Chinese were right.
"Tama po iyon. Wala tayong titulo sa Benham Rise. Because what we have is sovereign rights. Sovereign rights is different from title. Sovereign rights is the right to explore and exploit the natural and non-living resources found in the area," Roque said.
"We do not have sovereignty in the Benham Rise because what we only have in Benham Rise as part of our extended continental shelf is the right to explore and exploit the natural resources found thereat," he explained.
Included in a country's sovereign rights is the right to decide which countries it will allow to conduct scientific research in the area.
"Because it is sovereign, because it is exclusive, ibig sabihin noon, desisyon na ng soberenya iyon--soberenyang bansa kung nais niyang i-share sa iba. And we have allowed scientific research on the basis of guidelines that are already existing. And other nations, or other companies from different countries, can also apply," he said.
The Philippines' claim to Benham Rise, a massive 13-million-hectare area located east of Luzon island was approved by the United Nations back in 2012.