Updated 13:30 PM PHT Wed, March 15, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has clarified that Benham Rise is not part of Philippine national territory because the country does not have sovereignty over the area.
Under international law, however, the Philippines has "sovereign rights" (less than sovereignty, but exclusive and superior to the rights of other states) over Benham Rise, he said in a statement Tuesday.
Carpio is an expert on the West Philippine Sea and was part of the Philippine delegation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that argued and won the country's case against China.
China has admitted that its survey ships passed through Benham Rise, raising concern from the government.
Carpio said under Article 77 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippines has sole right to explore for and exploit oil, gas and other mineral resources in Benham Rise.
This includes sedentary species such as abalone, clams, and oysters.
Carpio said the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has confirmed that Benham Rise is part of the Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) of the Philippines.
He explained that other states, like China, have the right to conduct in Benham Rise:
- fishery research because the fish in the ECS belongs to mankind
- surveys on water salinity and water currents because the water column in the ECS belongs to mankind
- depth soundings for navigational purposes because there is freedom of navigation in the ECS
"If the Chinese vessels were looking for submarine passages and parking spaces, that would be part of freedom of navigation and the Philippines has no reason to complain," Carpio noted.
But if the Chinese vessels were conducting seismic surveys to look for oil, gas and minerals, they would be in violation of UNCLOS, which reserves the resources in the area to the Philippines.
"Therefore, the question that we should be asking is: did the Chinese vessels conduct seismic and other surveys to look for oil, gas and other minerals in Benham Rise?" Carpio pointed out.