New Philippine Military Frontier Considered to Fortify Benham Rise

The Philippines plans to build a military camp in Divilacan, Isabela to guard Benham Rise from intruders who will exploit its resources.

With the rising tension in the West Philippine Sea, the Marcos administration is planning to set up a naval stronghold in Divilacan, Isabela’s coastal town. It intends to keep an eye on Benham Rise (Philippine Rise), assumed to consist of massive natural gas deposits.

What is Benham Rise?

American Surveyor Andrew Ellicott Kennedy Benham discovered Benham Rise in 1933. Renamed to Philippine Rise under EO 25 signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte in May 2017, it consolidated the UN ruling in favour of the Philippines’ claim.

This roughly 24 million-hectare undersea region in Eastern Luzon encompasses a 13.4 million-hectare outer section. In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf certified this as part of the Philippine territory.

Bigger than Luzon, the Philippine Rise serves as a sanctuary for various rare corals and different marine species. The heterogeneous ecosystem draws and serves as a spawning ground and nursery for migratory prized fishes. It includes the Pacific bluefin tuna that swim to Mexico and the US.

Although the Philippine Rise is farther than 320 miles, the UN granted it to the Filipinos because the undersea formation was scientifically identified as a natural stretch of the continental shelf. Nobody may engage in activities, such as mineral exploration and exploitation.

It also includes scouring and using other non-living seabed and subsoil resources without the consent of the country. Moreover, only the Philippines has the exclusive right to approve and govern drilling on the continental shelf for all reasons. country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Protecting the Philippine Rise

According to Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr, Isabela Gov. Rodolfo Albano III was eager to develop the amenity for “joint use” with the US in his region. Included in the considered joint-use installations within the 564-hectare Camp Melchor Dela Cruz are a helipad, logistics warehouse, and a command and control fusion centre.

Both Albano and Teodoro visited the Army camp and said the presence of Americans in the province, particularly in the coastal areas, could help safeguard the uncharted resources in the Philippine Rise.

“These Philippine bases with Edca facilities are for us purely for internal credible deterrent posture. And not only here, we have to develop Philippine bases throughout the perimeters of the archipelago in order to secure our territory not only now but for the future,” Teodoro said.

He added that what happened in the West Philippine Sea should already become a lesson to the country. The same thing shouldn’t happen and mustn’t allow to happen. So far, the country is the only claimant to the Philippine Rise.

Currently, the province is hosting one of four new sites governed by Manila’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with Washington.

Divilacan’s second municipality is one of the province’s four coastal towns facing the Philippine Rise. Other sites include the Camilo Osias Naval Base and Lal-lo Airport both in Cagayan and another on Balabac Island in Palawan near the West Philippine Sea.

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