MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said that he wants to change the name of Benham Rise to assert the country's claim in the 13-million hectare underwater plateau.
"I want to include the Benham Rise on the right side of the Philippines in the Pacific. I will officially claim it as ours and rename it. Not Benham Rise. I'll call it the Philippine Ridge," Duterte said.
The seismically active underwater region, located about 250 kilometers east of Dinapigue, Isabela, is named after American geologist Andrew Benham, who discovered it in 1933.
The region has untapped natural resources and is said to be wider than Luzon, Samar and Leyte combined.
The Philippines voiced out concern following reports of Chinese presence in the region, which is part of the country's extended continental shelf.
In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the submission of the Philippines with respect to the limits of its continental shelf in the region.
The Philippine has sovereign rights in the area, enabling it to carry out exploitation and development of natural resources, according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The government had sent a note verbale to Beijing seeking clarification on the reported presence of Chinese vessels in Benham Rise.
China has replied to the note of the Philippines but failed to explain why their vessels were in the area.
"They replied to us when we requested for this information of what they were doing. What they did reply was they recognize our sovereign rights over Benham Rise," Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said at a televised press briefing earlier this week.
The Philippines previously denied requests of China to conduct marine research in Benham Rise for failure to fulfill requirements.
Beijing, however, said that it is willing to engage in a joint scientific research with the Philippines in the area.