Philippines seeks UN validation to extend continental shelf limits in contested waters

The extension would go beyond the outer limits of the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
BenarNews staff
Washington and Manila
Philippines seeks UN validation to extend continental shelf limits in contested waters A Chinese coast guard ship shadows Philippine fishing boats carrying volunteers from a civilian-led mission to transport and distribute fuel and food to Filipino fishermen in the disputed South China Sea, May 16, 2024.
Ted Aljibe/AFP

UPDATED at 3:21 p.m. ET on 2024-06-15

The Philippines is seeking U.N. validation to extend its continental shelf in the South China Sea and secure “exclusive” rights to exploit undersea resources, Manila’s foreign office said, amid heightened territorial tensions with China over the waterway. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said its mission to the United Nations had submitted documentation with the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) on Friday to “register the country’s entitlement to an extended continental shelf (ECS) in the West Palawan Region” in the sea.

“Today we secure our future by making a manifestation of our exclusive right to explore and exploit natural resources in our ECS entitlement,” said Marshall Louis M. Alferez, assistant secretary for Maritime and Ocean Affairs at the department.

The department indicated that Manila intended to stretch the Philippine continental shelf beyond the outer limits of the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, but it did not say by how much more. Philippine territorial waters in the sea are believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits.

“The Philippines is entitled to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf comprising the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas extending beyond 200 nautical miles (NM) but not exceed 350 NM from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured,” the department said in a statement posted on social media.

It noted that the country was entitled to do this under Article 76 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Under UNCLOS, a coastal state has exclusive and sovereign rights over the continental shelf “for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.” 

The Philippines issued the announcement against the backdrop of tensions with China in South China Sea waters of its EEZ, which Filipinos refer to as the West Philippine Sea.

Chinese coast guard ships in recent months have been harassing Filipino civilian boats sailing in EEZ waters that overlap with China’s extensive territorial claims in the sea.

Manila lodged its claim with the U.N. on the eve of a new Chinese regulation taking effect that authorizes its coast guard to intercept and arrest foreign vessels and crews caught “trespassing” in China-claimed waters.

“Incidents in the waters tend to overshadow the importance of what lies beneath,” the statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs quoted Alferez as saying.

“The seabed and the subsoil extending from our archipelago up [to] the maximum extent allowed by UNCLOS hold significant potential resources that will benefit our nation and our people for generations to come.”

There was no immediate response by the Chinese embassy in Manila to this Philippine diplomatic move.

In late May, China’s foreign ministry defended the trespassing regulation, saying it was established to standardize Chinese law enforcement measures “and better uphold order at sea.”

“Individuals and entities have no need for concern as long as they have not done anything illicit,” ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular press conference on May 29.

China claims the waterway almost in its entirety, putting it at odds with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Taiwan.

UNCLOS was the basis for a landmark lawsuit brought by the Philippines against China in 2012 following a standoff over Scarborough Shoal. In 2016, a U.N. arbitration court ruled in favor of Manila, but Beijing has refused to recognize the verdict and effectively remained in control of the shoal.

In 2012, the U.N. commission validated a claim submitted by Manila to partially extend the continental shelf of the Philippine Rise in the Philippine Sea, then known as the Benham Rise, by 135,506 kilometers (52,319 square miles).

Manila’s latest submission to the U.N. commission was years in the making and had been cleared by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a spokeswoman for the foreign office said in a statement Saturday.

“We have long prepared for this, and in fact we mentioned in our Philippine (Benham) Rise submission in 2009 that we reserved our right to make further submissions to the west. It was a long inter-agency process that involved deliberate and intensive scientific research and review,” Ma. Teresita Daza said.

“The submission comes after we completed this comprehensive technical and scientific study of our continental shelf in the West Philippine Sea, and with the clearance support of the President.”

This report has been updated to include information from UNCLOS about a sovereign state’s exclusive right to explore and exploit natural resources in its territorial waters.  


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