Benham Rise (coordinates: 119°30’E to 132°00’E and 12°10’N to 20°30’N latitude), also known as the Benham Plateau, is a 13-million hectare undersea region east of Luzon and is 40 meters underwater at its shallowest point off the provinces of Isabela and Aurora. It is bounded by the West Philippine Basin to the north and east. It is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge east of the Philippines, in the Philippine Sea which lies a number of Basins including the West Philippine Basin (WPB) of which inside the Basin is located the Central Basin Fault (CBF). The Benham Plateau is located in the CBF and its basement probably represents a micro-continent. Several scientific surveys have been made on the feature to study its nature and its impact on tectonic subduction, including one about its effects on the 1990 Luzon earthquake, which devastated the northern city of Baguio. The area is currently claimed, as part of its continental shelf, by the Republic of the Philippines, which has lodged a claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on April 8, 2009. Under the UNCLOS, 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). If the UN recognizes the Philippines’ claim, the country’s territory will increase to 43 million hectares from 30 million hectares.
Named after the American geologist Andrew Benham who discovered the shelf, the rise was mapped in 1933 but its connection to the Philippine continental shelf was validated only recently to justify the county’s economic claim. Despite its proximity to the archipelago, the plateau was previously not included in the territory of the Philippine Islands. On 8 April 2009, the Republic of the Philippines lodged a partial territorial waters claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in relation to the continental shelf in the region of Benham Rise. It was submitted as part of petition expanding the archipelago's baselines and exclusive economic zone through a law that also included other claims involving disputed territories of the Kalayaan Islands (Spratly Islands) and Scarborough Shoal. Although the landform, in itself, is not disputed, the petition still received some criticism inside and outside the country because of its controversial nature. According to the government's claim, based on a set of guidelines by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the area satisfies the 350-mile constraint line since the outer limits of the continental shelf are located landward of the constraint line, which is located 350 miles from the baselines where the measurement of the breadth of the territorial sea begins. Benham Rise is not subject to any maritime boundary disputes and claims. The Congress of the Philippines enacted Republic Act No. 9522, also known as the Archipelagic Baselines Law, which is the basis of the claim. According to the document the region is bounded by the Philippine Basin on the north and east, and by Luzon on the west and south. It asserted that, according to scientific data based on seismic, magnetic, other geological features, the Benham Rise is an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
In summary, the baselines, the basis used for delineating the maritime territorial and jurisdictional zones (including the continental shelf), conform with the requirements of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The claim is only a partial claim since the law that allows the Philippines to expand its territorial boundaries also includes islands in the South China Sea. The Philippines may soon be able to provide its own energy needs if it obtains possession of Benham Rise, an underwater ridge to the east of Luzon which is believed to have mineral and gas deposits. The Philippines claim over Benham Rise is "very relevant" because scientific surveys indicate minerals and natural gas in the area. Solidified methane was found during mapping activities and the "probability is very high" there are oil deposits. There may be more natural gas than oil, and is considered better because it is cleaner. Benham Rise, which is bigger than Luzon, Samar, and Leyte combined, is being claimed solely by the Philippines because it is the only country within 200 nautical miles of the plateau.
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