Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 8) — President Rodrigo Duterte will go to Benham Rise this month with 50 Filipino scientists who will conduct research in the vast undersea region, the Palace said Tuesday.
Duterte’s visit is set on May 15-16 to commemorate the renaming of Benham Rise to Philippine Rise, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing.
On May 16 last year, Duterte signed an executive order formalizing the change of name after Chinese survey ships were spotted in the area two months earlier.
Benham Rise is an undersea plateau covering 13 million hectares some 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province. The United Nations has recognized it as part of the country’s extended continental shelf over which the Philippines has sole sovereign rights.
In April, Duterte said he would visit the area to assert the country’s rights.
“Next week… I’m going to Benham Rise and I will make a statement there that nobody owns this place (except the Philippines),” Duterte said in an April 26 speech, adding that he would “go to war” if any other country claimed it.
Filipinos to conduct research
The President’s visit “will also be to launch the start of scientific research to be conducted by around 50 scientists,” Roque said.
The government was earlier criticized for allowing China to do research in waters off the northeastern part of the country, including Benham Rise, in partnership with the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute. But China later said the research was done “in waters under the Philippines’ jurisdiction, but not in the Benham Rise”
The region lies on the other side of the Philippine achipelago where the contested waters of the South China Sea is located. The Philippines and China are among the six claimants in the maritime dispute.
The Palace in February said foreigners may do research in Benham Rise as long as they get approval from the National Security Adviser.
Benham Rise, named after U.S. geologist Andrew Benham who discovered it in 1933, is believed to be rich in marine resources, natural gas, oil, and minerals. Last year, China named some undersea features of Benham Rise which were recognized by the International Hydrographic Organization.