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Benham Plateau also known as the Benham Rise (with coordinates 119°3O’E to 132°OO’E and 12°1O’N to 2O°3O’N latitude),is a 13 million hectare under sea region east of Luzon and is 35 meters underwater at its shallowest point off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela. It is delimited 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 region is located in the CBF and its basement represents a micro-continent. Several scientific survey analysis have been made 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 solely claimed, as part of its continental shelf, by the Republic of the Philippines, which was confirmed by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on April 12, 2012. 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). The UN now recognizes the Philippines’ claim and the country’s territory has increase to 43 million hectares from 30 million hectares.
Named after the American geologist Andrew Benham who discovered the continental shelf, the area was mapped in 1933 but its connection to the Philippine 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 full 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 off shore 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 was never a 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 region is an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
In summary, the baselines, the basis used for delineating the maritime territorial and jurisdictional zones, conform with the requirements of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Indirectly, the claim is only a partial claim since the law that allows the Philippines to expand its territorial boundaries also includes other disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea. The Philippines may soon be able to provide its own energy needs if it can extract abundant mineral, oil and natural gas of Benham Rise, 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 extremely very high" there are massive oil deposits. Benham Rise, which is wider than the entire Luzon, Samar, and Leyte combined, is now officially part of the Philippines because it is the only country within 200 nautical miles of the plateau.
The United Nation has officially approved and recognized the claim of the Philippines in April of 2012, in strict compliance with the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has officially received a letter from UNCLOS informing the Philippines that Benham Rise is now part of the Philippine continental shelf and territory. The Philippines would soon benefit from the massive mineral and gas deposits in the region which would enable the country to achieve complete energy sufficiency.
The Commission on the Limits of the Continental
Shelf (CLCS) of the United Nations adopted in full the Republic of the
Philippines’ Submission for an extended continental shelf on April 12, 2012 which includes part of the seabed that extends
beyond 200 nautical miles from the country’s baselines covering a seabed area of 52,340 square miles.
The geological and morphological analyses establish that Benham Rise is a natural prolongation of the landmass of Luzon that is distinct from the adjacent ocean floor. The connection between Benham Rise and Luzon is evident from its morphology particularly through the Palanan Saddles and Bicol which shows that Benham Rise is accreted to Luzon. The extent of this large igneous province reaches well beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. With the geological and morphological evidence, the Test of Appurtenance is proven and the Philippines is therefore entitled to delineate the outer limit of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.