THE news that the Philippines has given its consent to China to conduct scientific research in Benham Rise, renamed Philippine Rise, has provoked much controversy. The Benham Rise, with a submarine area roughly the size of Greece, is believed to be rich in gas deposits. There is, therefore, great anxiety, in being informed about the measures that the Philippines is taking to ensure that the Philippines is adequately safeguarding its sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources in this submarine area.
As a maritime country located in the center of the archipelagic continent, the Philippines actively participated in the three UN Conferences on the Law of the Sea, to advocate the creation of new maritime zones for coastal states and lobby for the emergence of a New International Economic Order. The Philippines has been a leader of the Group of 77, which emerged at the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) as a negotiating bloc to reflect the perspectives of developing countries. UNCLOS III was conducted over a nine-year period between 1973 and 1982 with 11 negotiating sessions spread across 585 days and held in three countries. One of the beneficial outcomes for the Philippines from this conference was the recognition of its sovereign rights to the Benham Rise.
Concept of sovereign rights
Benham Rise is located in the Philippine Sea near Aurora province. This submarine area is the “natural prolongation” of the land territory of the Philippines, and by virtue thereof, the Philippines has the sovereign rights to explore and exploit its natural resources under the doctrine of the continental shelf.
However, Benham Rise is not part of the Philippines’ territory over which the Philippines enjoys sovereignty or the full plenitude of powers to control the activities in the area.
The concept of sovereign rights means that the coastal state should exercise its rights without unjustifiably interfering with navigation and other rights and freedoms of other states in the area as provided in the convention.