By Fidel V. Ramos
Former Philippine President
Last of Two Parts)
“Lorenzana on Chinese ship: what innocent passage? — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is disputing China’s claim that its survey ships, spotted last year at Benham Rise – a vast undersea region east of Luzon – were there merely on ‘innocent passage.’ As far as we are concerned they have no business going there,” he said. (Malaya, 14 March 2017)
The Du30 government is “worried” about the Chinese activity at Benham Rise. “We will do something there, maybe we will increase our patrols at the same time, maybe we will also put something there, structures that say this is ours (Philippines)… They (Chinese) know that Benham Rise was awarded to us by the United Nations,” the defense secretary also said.
In 2012, the United Nations declared Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare undersea region east of Luzon rich in biodiversity and fish stocks, part of the Philippine continental shelf.
In early March this year, Lorenzana said the AFP and support maritime services monitored Chinese survey ships at the Benham Rise from July to December, 2016, conducting surveys apparently for the deployment of submarines. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry (MOFA) said China’s research ships were “purely carrying out normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage, and there were no other activities or operations.”
DND plus Philippine Coast Guard (DOTr) sources AND FVR say: “if that’s innocent passage, you know what innocent passage is, it’s like going from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ straight and your steaming speed is constant. What the AFP saw… were Chinese ships steaming at low speed and they stopped in one area, stayed there for a few days and transferred to another place. That is not innocent passage.”
Significance of PRS92
The Philippine reference system of 1992 (PRS92) is a homogeneous national network of geodetic control points (GCPS), marked by survey monuments (or MOJONS), that has been established using GPS technology. GPS is an all-weather, high precision, global satellite positioning system that revolutionized navigation and surveying operations – on land, under water, and now out there in cyberspace.
By virtue of EO 45 issued by the FVR administration on 05 January 1993, PRS92 became the standard reference system for all surveying and mapping activities in the Philippines. The order also mandated that all new surveys and maps shall be referred to the new network and all old surveys be integrated into it.
PRS92 is the fundamental component of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) which serves as the country’s standard coordinate reference system for all survey and mapping activities. It provides the means through which base and thematic datasets can be consistently inter-related geographically.
The primary stakeholders of PRS92 are all government agencies engaged in surveying and mapping like the Departments of Environment and National Resources (DENR); Agriculture (DA); National Defense (DND); Public Works and Highways (DPWH); Transportation (DOTr); Information and Communications Technology (DICT); Agrarian Reform (DAR); and other agencies having interests in land, maritime and aerospace mapping.
Private surveyors, foresters, and academic institutions are also important users. Private and public landowners and fisherfolk are the major beneficiaries while the general public that is benefiting from the programs of the above-mentioned Government agencies is the ultimate beneficiary.
Prs92 was first implemented through EO 45 under the Ramos administration (with deadline set at year 2000). It was amended thru Eo 280 to extend its implementation by 2005. In order to complete the adoption and integration of old surveys into the system until year 2010, EO 321 was issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
More historical background
Let us continue our 19 march issue (part i) with Dr. Jay Batongbacal’s and NAMRIA Deputy Administrator Efren Carandang’s article “Benham rise: how the shelf was won,” thus:
“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 United Nations’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UN-CLCS). NAMRIA inaugurated the Philippine ECS Project under then Director Efren Carandang. Its first task was to recruit scientific expertise, to which Dr. Santos and the UP-NIGS quickly responded. Ms. Nancy Aguda and Jenny Anne Barretto, both young geologists of UP-NIGS, together with NAMRIA Engineer Dennis Bringas, undertook much of the very tedious technical analysis, supported by a team of cartographers, hydrographers, and I.T.-specialists detailed from other NAMRIA offices. Many experts from the UP-NIGS such as Dr. Mario Aurelio and Dr. Mahar Lagmay were also called in…”
(It will be recalled that former NAMRIA Administrator and retired Police Director Diony Ventura, was the pioneer NAMRIA component in this Project. Earlier, Ventura had also served as FVR’s Aide-de-Camp back in the 1970s/80s.)
Additional data was gathered from both local and international institutions, and NAMRIA procured the latest in computer hardware and software to process them. Participants from the DOJ, DOE, PCG, NSC, and other relevant agencies also joined discussions on policy issues about the claim. The team then produced draft submissions with advice from the UK National Oceanography Centre (NOC) based in Southampton.
At that time, there was very little first-hand information about the actual intricacies of writing and supporting ECS submissions with the UN-CLCS. NAMRIA contacted UP Law Professor Jay Batongbacal, who was then still taking up his doctorate in Canada, to join the project, participating in the project’s second major workshop via Skype. Professor Batongbacal then met with Commissioner Galo Carrera of Mexico, a UN-CLCS member and colleague who had given maritime boundary workshops in the Philippines back in the 1990s.
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. That GNS team provided the Philippine team with information and advice on their actual experiences in making their claim, as well as enhanced their knowledge and capabilities in analyzing and interpreting the data.
The Philippine team then decided to make the “Submission for Benham Rise” first. With the new project participants, a completely different version of the “Submission” emerged from the previous drafts. Commissioner Carrera facilitated an exchange of views between the Philippine ECS Project team and their counterparts in Mexico, who had also successfully completed their own ECS submission. He also visited the Philippines to work directly with our Project team in marathon technical workshops. All previous work was reviewed, re-analyzed, and portions rejected in order to produce the new “Submission.” 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 I.T. Group led by Deputy Administrator Linda Papa, and integrated into customized browser software, and which were later delivered to our Permanent Representative to the U.N. in New York.
Meanwhile, there were many activities in the Philippine Congress on the proposed amendment of the Philippine archipelagic baselines law, which was an important prelude to the making of a “Submission” to the U.N. NAMRIA undertook PRS92 surveys of the proposed basepoints, and prepared several baseline configurations for Congress which passed the new baselines law in March 2009.
The Philippines submitted its “submission” to the U.N. on 08 April 2009 – a month before the original deadline. On 15 august 2009, the ECS team made its first formal presentation to the U.N. Commission En Banc, with then ambassador Hilario Davide introducing the Philippine delegation led by Ambassador Minerva Falcon.
Benham rise development authority
Last month, Senator Sonny Angara filed senate bill no. 312, “the Benham rise development authority act,” in the light of consistent reports of aggressive Chinese activity in the area as previously narrated.
Obviously, the Senate finds it imperative to tackle national security concerns soonest in the wake of reports of suspicious Chinese activities in the area since 2016.
There should be no problem for the Philippines over Benham Rise because (1) the Philippines is the sole claimant; and (2) the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) ruled in 2012 that Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ Extended Continental Shelf (ECS). It is not Philippine territory – we have no ”sovereignty” over it, but we have “sovereign rights” – exclusive rights to explore and exploit the oil, gas, and other natural resources in that undersea plateau which is as big as Luzon (if not bigger).
It is only to the east of Luzon (Pacific Ocean side) where we have no rival claimant. We should be thankful we have Benham Rise to ourselves, to develop as a new source of natural resources for Philippine industry and progress.
Congress would do well to enact ASAP senator sonny angara’s bill for a “Benham Rise Development Authority (BRDA),” and for the du30 administration to start drawing up plans for this potentially rich area – for its control, security, development, national advantage and global use.
The BRDA should be backed up by a combined task force OF AFP-PNP-PCG units and also intelligence/surveillance assets of other relevant departments, plus private maritime/oceanographic agencies. This requires constant consultation and inclusive consensus.
KAYA BA NATIN ITO???
Please send any comments to [email protected] Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.
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