Effective year 2012, the Philippines have augmented its area into 43 Million hectares from 30 Million hectares.
The United Nations has approved the Philippines' territorial claim to Benham Rise, an undersea landmass in the Pacific Ocean potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said.
"We own Benham Rise now," Paje said in a media interview. "This is for future Filipinos," he added, noting that the 13-million-hectare area off the coast of Aurora province has been shown to have rich mineral deposits.
Paje said the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) sent the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) a letter last week informing the agency that the landmass is part of the country's continental shelf and territory.
Benham Rise, a seismically active region facing Luzon's eastern seaboard, is rising slowly to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, Paje said. Perhaps, in a million years—a blink in the planet's geological time—it will be habitable, he said.
Larger than Luzon
The plateau is a massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, and is within coordinates 119°30'E to 132°00'E and 12°10'N to 20°30'N latitude.
Paje said Benham Rise, named after an American surveyor, is larger in area than Luzon. It has been shown to have natural gas deposits and manganese nodules, vital in the production of steel, he added.
Despite Benham's proximity to the Philippines and its location within the country's exclusive economic zone, the government did not claim it until 2008. Then, the next year, the government submitted a formal claim to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Philippine submission noted that the country reserves the right to submit further claims in the area.
China and the Philippines are feuding over Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, 220 kilometers (124 nautical miles) west of Zambales province.
The Philippines and some of its Southeast Asian neighbors are also disputing with China and Taiwan ownership of parts of Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.
The Spratlys are believed to be sitting on vast deposits of minerals and natural gas, in an area spanned by sea lanes vital to global trade.
IN THE KNOW
BENHAM RISE is a 13-million-hectare undersea region that lies east of Luzon and off the provinces of Isabela and Aurora.
Also known as Benham Plateau, it is a massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, and is described in a study as a thickened portion of the Philippine sea plate's oceanic crust.
The formation lies within the continental shelf of the Philippines as defined by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), under which a coastal state's exclusive economic zone extends 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles) from its continental shelf, while its extended continental shelf extends for another 278 km (150 nautical miles).
Benham Rise is not subject to any maritime boundary disputes and claims.
Studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have indicated large deposits of methane in solid form in the area.
In August last year, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje announced that the Philippines will gain additional territory should the United Nations approve the country's claim to Benham, which the country submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York on April 8, 2009.
According to Paje, an American geologist, Andrew Benham, discovered the area, which was between 40 meters and 2,000 meters below the waterline, in 1933. Paje said gas deposits in the area would enable the country to achieve energy sufficiency
Benham Rise was found off the coast of Aurora province, Northeastern part of Luzon Island and is part of the Philippine continental shelf and its 200 Nautical Mile Exclusive Economic Zone. With just the Pacific Ocean to the east, Hawaii is probably the next closest island.
Benham Rise, also known as Benham Plateau, is a 13-million hectare undersea region east of Luzon. It is enclosed by the coordinates 119°30'E to 132°00'E and 12°10'N to 20°30'N latitude.
The plateau is a massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, and is described in a study as a thickened portion of the Philippine Sea plate's oceanic crust.
Another research notes the similarity of the shape of Benham Rise to the sharp bend of the Luzon coastline, which suggests the sea floor's resistance to subduction (the process by which one plate on the earth's crust is pushed downward beneath another plate because of collision) that may have affected the Philippine fault.
Paje said the undersea region, called Benham Rise, could turn the Philippines into a natural gas exporter because of the area's huge methane deposits.
Studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the past five years indicate large deposits of methane in solid form, Paje said after a Senate budget hearing.
The government is only awaiting a formal declaration from the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that Benham Rise is on the country's continental shelf and therefore part of its territory, Paje said.
Philippines Legal basis of Expansion
Since the UN approved that Benham Rise is part of the Philippines, "we would have legal basis to enter into exploration agreements with private companies to explore… (the area's) resources," said Sen. Franklin Drilon, chair of the chamber's finance committee.
After this favorable UNCLOSs declaration, the Philippines territory area augmented from 30 million hectares in 2011 into 43 million hectares effective year 2012 with the inclusion of Benham Rise.
Davide submission 2009
Hilario Davide, then Philippine ambassador to the United Nations, filed the country's partial submission with the commission.
The United Nations says the continental shelf is "the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea" up to 370 km (200 nautical miles) from the archipelagic baseline. An extended continental shelf goes farther than 370 km.
The Philippines claims that Benham Rise is an extension of its continental shelf.
Paje said Benham Rise was within the country's 370-km exclusive economic zone.
The environment secretary said an American geologist surnamed Benham discovered the area that was between 40 and 2,000 meters below the waterline in 1933.
"But we are able to define categorically that it is attached to our continental shelf only recently. We have proven (to) UNCLOS that it is attached. So now the UN is considering it for decision sometime in 2012," Paje said.
He said gas deposits in the area would enable the country to achieve energy sufficiency.
"Benham Rise is very relevant because of its gas deposits (which has been) confirmed particularly by (the) National Mapping Resource Information Agency. It has given us the data that (the area) contains solid methane. We have not explored it but we have found nodules of methane in the surface and this is very important to us," he said.
Kalayaan, Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal)
The Kalayaan Island Group, which is part of the disputed Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, both located in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) and claimed by the Philippines, are also believed to contain oil and natural gas.
Paje said there was the possibility that the country could export gas in the future.
The secretary added that there would be a demand for gas deposits in Benham Rise "because it's much cleaner than (other) fossil fuels."