‘Benham Rise’ agency sought to make resources exclusive to Filipinos
MANILA — In a bid to protect the maritime resources that are “rightfully ours” amid “abuse by other countries,” yet another lawmaker has sought the creation of a government agency to manage the Benham Rise.
House Bill No. 5360, filed Monday, seeks the creation of Benham Rise Protection and Development Authority mandated to govern the resources and secure the region’s exclusive use by Filipinos.
The BRPDA is a proposed National Economic and Development Authority-attached agency with a lifespan of 50 years that may be renewed for another 50.
Buhay Party-list Rep.Lito Atienza described the agency as a “technical government agency that would protect and manage Benham Rise to ensure that these natural resources that are rightfully ours would not be exploited and abused by other countries claiming it to be their own.”
The authority is tasked with formulating policies and programs for the protection and sustainable development and utilization of all natural resources found in the 13-million hectare underwater plateau.
The proposed BRPDA will be tasked to coordinate with the government for the enactment of laws and executive issuances “to make sure the region’s economic benefits are reserved and available exclusively to Filipinos only.”
The proposed agency will also be in charge of building “any structure that would be deemed necessary in the implementation of its mandate.”
Besides the implementation of laws and regulations and the maintenance of a database for the planning of programs, the BRPDA will also be tasked with promoting and paving the way for “public and private investments.”
It will also be in charge of raising funds from sources besides government appropriations, and administering donations, private contributions and foreign assistance to be used in the development of Benham Rise.
BRPDA is also mandated with reviewing programs, projects and plans for the Benham Rise, to be submitted for the approval of the National Economic and Development Authority.
The authority will be headed by an administrator to be appointed by the President at the recommendation of the NEDA.
The bill provides for the creation of an 11-member board chaired by the NEDA director-general, with the BRPDA administrator acting as vice-chairperson.
The 11 board members include: the Secretaries of Environment and Natural Resources, Energy, Agriculture, Science and Technology, Finance, Tourism, Public Works and Highways, and National Defense, as well as one presidential appointee each from the business sector, the academe and non-government organizations.
Only the Philippines has staked a claim in the Benham Rise, which is located 250 kilometers east of the provinces of Isabela and Aurora. The United Nations in 2012 declared the underwater feature a part of the extended continental shelf.
This enlarged the country’s exclusive economic zone, which is not territorial sea but an area where the nearest country can exercise exclusive sovereign rights for exploitation of resources.
But, the reported presence of a Chinese survey ship in the past few months triggered alarm amid an ongoing maritime dispute on the Philippines’ western shores at the South China Sea.
Way back in July, Aurora Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo filed HB 1659 to seek the creation of the Benham Rise Development Authority, but this has remained pending with the House Committee on Government Enterprises and Privatization.
After Chinese activities were reported, Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed House Bill No. 5318 this month to seek the creation of the Benham Rise Development Commission. SFM
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