MANILA – Malacañang has been asked to certify the bill installing the Benham or Philippine Rise Protection and Development Authority (PRPDA) “to guarantee that all natural resources within the 13 million-hectare undersea region are preserved for the exclusive enjoyment of future generations of Filipinos.”
“We are asking the Palace to endorse our bill as urgent. It has become absolutely imperative for us to designate a single highly focused entity to safeguard and manage the resources found in the waters, seabed and subsoil of Benham that rightfully belong to the Philippines,” said Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza.
“This is the only way we can ensure that all living as well as non-living assets in the region that form part of our national wealth are adequately protected and harnessed for the benefit of our children and their children,” added Atienza, the senior deputy minority leader.
Atienza’s House Bill 5360 assigns the socioeconomic planning secretary, who is also National Economic and Development Authority director general, to chair the PRPDA’s governing board.
He or she would also recommend for appointment by Malacañang the person who will serve as full-time chief executive officer or administrator of the PRPDA.
Atienza earlier said that Beijing’s move to ascribe Chinese names to five seamounts in Benham has “zero impact” on the sovereign rights that Manila enjoys over the submerged region.
The Chinese tags have not reduced the fact that under international law, Benham forms part of the Philippine continental shelf, according to the lawmaker.
Atienza nonetheless urged the Philippine government to give Filipino names to every seamount in Benham.
Under Atienza’s bill, the PRPDA’s governing board would include the heads of the departments of environment and natural resources, energy, agriculture, science and technology, finance, tourism, public works and highways, and defense, plus three private sector representatives.
During the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippine government in 2009 specifically marked Benham as within the limits of the Philippine continental shelf.
The demarcation was approved by the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf three years later.
Atienza was environment and natural resources secretary when he had Benham surveyed between 2007 and 2008 to gather the technical data that would later officially define the region as inside the Philippine continental shelf.
Benham is located off the Philippines’ Pacific coast, some 250 kilometers east of the northern beaches of Dinapigue, Isabela.