Duterte says he'll visit Benham Rise to assert ownership

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 27) — President Rodrigo Duterte is visiting Benham Rise soon to assert the Philippines' sovereign rights over the vast undersea region.

"Next week... I'm going to Benham Rise and I will make a statement there that nobody owns this place (except the Philippines)" Duterte said in a speech Thursday night, a video of which was released Friday.

He reiterated he "will go to war" if any other country claims to own Benham Rise.

Benham Rise is an undersea plateau 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province that spans 13 million hectares.

The United Nations' Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has recognized it as part of the country's extended continental shelf - giving the country sovereign rights over the area.

Duterte named it Philippine Rise after Chinese survey ships were spotted there in March 2017.

The region lies on the other side of the Philippine achipelago from the South China Sea, where the Philippines has territorial disputes with China. Four other governments have territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Philippine officials said they will also name five undersea features in Benham Rise, refusing to recognize names given to them by China in 2016 and 2017 but which made headlines only early this year.

The government was criticized for its decision to allow China to conduct research in waters off the northeastern part of the Philippines which includes Benham Rise, in partnership with the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute. China later clarified the research was done "in waters under the Philippines' jurisdiction, but not in the Benham Rise."

Benham Rise, named after U.S. geologist Andrew Benham who first discovered it in 1933, is believed to be rich in marine resources, natural gas, oil, and minerals.

CNN Philippines' Ella Hermonio contributed to this report.