March 18, 2017


By Arturo P. Garcia13620168_1267189539973023_1546217399480246871_n

The Filipinos and the Filipino American community must know how we won the Benham Rise and its story. Thus, we can honor our unsung heroes and condemn those who are in power who wanted to give it away.

It is the same story when Commodore Tomas Cloma claimed the “Spratley islands” for the Philippines and was even persecuted for it by dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

He was even jailed for the good job he has done for the country. Thus, we must know the story behind the Benham Rise.

“The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS)’s recognition of Philippine jurisdiction over the Benham Rise Region is the Philippines’ first successful validation of a claim in accord with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. It is the first major expansion of the Philippines’ maritime boundaries since the late 1970s when it declared its EEZ (exclusive economic zone). This happy outcome is a tribute to a quiet and diligent work and collaboration by a team of public servants, scientists and legal experts who pursued the claim for over a decade.

The story of the Philippine claim to Benham Rise began with a workshop in 2001 to assist the DFA and the DENR’s National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) with regard to the implementation of the Law of the Sea. Ms. Suzette Suarez of the UP Institute of International Legal Studies (UP-IILS) organized the workshop to discuss the requirements for claiming extended continental shelf (ECS) areas for the Philippines.

Dr. Teodoro Santos of the UP National Institute for Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS) identified and proposed Benham Rise, then a relatively unknown area of the Pacific Ocean east of Luzon, as a possible ECS area in addition to areas west of Palawan. This resulted in an inter-agency Memorandum of Agreement among key government agencies and the academe to work together to make the ECS claims. Under then-Administrator Diony Ventura, the NAMRIA set itself to the task of conducting the extensive hydrographic surveys required as a basis for the claim.

They commissioned a desktop feasibility study by the Norwegian firm Blom-ASA with Norwegian assistance. Afterwards, the NAMRIA’s Coast and Geodetic Surveys Department sent its two survey ships, the Presbitero and Ventura, on several cruises to the Pacific to map the seabed beyond 200 nautical miles away and more than 5000 meters deep.

In 2007, the cabinet-level Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs created a Technical Working Group to prepare the Philippines’ formal claims or “Submissions,” to be filed with the CLCS in the United Nations. NAMRIA inaugurated the Philippine ECS Project under then-Director Efren Carandang.

At the time, there was very little first-hand information about the actual intricacies of writing and supporting ECS submissions with the CLCS. NAMRIA contacted UP Law Prof. Jay Batongbacal, who was still taking up his doctorate in Canada, to join the project even while abroad, participating in the project’s second major workshop via Skype. Prof. Batongbacal then met with Comm. Galo Carrera of Mexico, a CLCS Commissioner and colleague who had given maritime boundary workshops in the Philippines back in the 1990s.

Over a cup of coffee in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Comm. Carrera agreed to assist the Philippines in preparing and finalizing the Submissions.

For help on the technical aspects, NAMRIA engaged the GNS, New Zealand’s equivalent of the UP-NIGS and PhiVolcs. New Zealand had just announced its success in securing approval of the New Zealand ECS claim. The GNS team provided the Philippine team with information and advice on their actual experiences in making theirclaim, as well as enhanced their knowledge and capabilities in analysing and interpreting the data.

All previous work was reviewed, re-analyzed, and sometimes rejected, in order to produce the new Submission. Mr. Rolando Peña of UP-NIGS served as technical editor. Thousands of pages of raw data and documents had to be collated, digitally reproduced, and professionally packaged by the NAMRIA’s IT Group led by Deputy Administrator Linda Papa, and integrated into customised browser software for the exclusive use of the CLCS. Their hard work resulted in boxes of documents that filled half of the NAMRIA’s service van, and which were later delivered to New York.

The ECS team closely monitored the developments in the legislature, and was relieved when the new baselines law was passed in March 2009.

The Philippines made its submission on April 8, 2009, a month before the original deadline. On August 15, 2009, the ECS team made its first formal presentation to the CLCS en banc.

The team thought that the Philippines would have to wait until the year 2014 before the CLCS could begin consideration of the Submission. They were thus completely surprised when in January 2011, there was a notification that a CLCS Subcommission, chaired by Lawrence F. Awosika of Nigeria, had commenced the validation of the claim, and that it had already sent technical questions. For some reason the Philippines had jumped the line!

It turned out to be the busiest and most challenging of all the meetings. Despite daily discussions, the Subcommission was not swayed from its position. The stalemate jeopardized the resolution of the Submission. However, upon the delegation’s request for guidance, the Subcommission pointed out that it was possible to draw the border using another method adopted by the CLCS.

The new method actually increased the area of the claim; so the team enthusiastically spent as sleepless night excitedly drawing up new scenarios and borders with everything from computers to kitchenware.Into the early morning, the geologists, hydrographers and cartographers drew up maps and figures, while the lawyers prepared the necessary diplomatic script. On the last meeting held several hours later, the Subcommission agreed with the Philippines’ new proposed boundaries.

The team members thought that their work was finished, so in March 2012,

But another surprise was sprung: the delegation determined just before the actual meeting that it was still possible to again expand the claimed area, this time at the northern border. They woke up the technical staff in Manila to recompute the borders and produce new maps and coordinates in only three hours. The effort was successful, with the Subcommission accepting the change. The delegation left with a new map and technical description of the Benham Rise Region comprising a larger area than the Philippines had at first claimed.

On 12 April 2012, the small delegation returned and accompanied the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations in making its final presentation to the CLCS en banc, before its final deliberation on the Philippine submission.

Amb. Libran Cabactulan delivered the final pitch, speaking of the Philippines’ adherence to international law, and thanking the Commission for the fruitful collaboration in determining the outer limits of our ECS in the Benham Rise Region. He made this presentation to the full Commission, which by this time was chaired by Comm. Carrera. Since he had previously assisted the Philippines, Comm. Carrera could not help our cause in the deliberations, and as Chairman he was bound by rules of confidentiality.

The day after the meeting, as the delegation met him to bid a friendly farewell, he warned that nothing was fixed yet, and that he would notify the Philippines of the results in the following weeks.

But he congratulated the delegation for a good final presentation and a job well done, and then parted by saying, with a smile, “I think we should be thankful for the very good weather.”

Now we know why.”


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