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MANILA — The Philippines has acquired an additional territory of 13 million hectares, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reported.

This new territory was formally acquired by the Philippines when the United Nations approved recently its territorial claim to the Ben Ham Rise in the Pacific Ocean, an undersea landmass said to be bigger than the entire Luzon.

The DENR said that the landmass, which is slowly rising, is potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits, said Ramon Paje, DENR secretary.[box type=”default” size=”large”] UN okays PHL’s territorial claim to Benham Rise [/box]Paje said that Benham Rise, a seismically active region facing Luzon’s eastern seaboard, is rising slowly to the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps, in a million years — just a short period in the cosmos  geological time — it will be habitable, he said.

Paje said the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) had sent the DENR a letter informing the agency that the landmass is now legally part of the Philippine continental shelf and territory.

The undersea plateau is reportedly a massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock and is within coordinates 119°30’E to 132°00’E and 12°10’N to 20°30’N latitude.

Paje said Benham Rise, named after an American surveyor, is larger in area than Luzon. It has been shown to have natural gas deposits and manganese nodules, vital in the production of steel, he added.

Despite Benham’s proximity to the Philippines and its location within the country’s exclusive economic zone, the government did not claim it until 2008.

In 2009, the government submitted a formal claim to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Philippine submission noted that the country reserves the right to submit further claims in the area.

The Philippines is the sole claimant of Benham Rise. The country is currently embroiled in territorial disputes over several islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

China and the Philippines are feuding over Panatag (Scarbourough) Shoal, 220 kilometres (124 nautical miles) west of Zambales province.

The Philippines and some of its Southeast Asian neighbours are also disputing with China and Taiwan ownership of parts of Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea.

The Spratlys are believed to be sitting on vast deposits of minerals and natural gas, in an area spanned by sea lanes vital to global trade.

Studies conducted by DENR showed large deposits of methane in solid form in the area.

In August last year, Paje announced that the Philippines would gain additional territory should the UN approve the country’s claim to Benham, which the country submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York on April 8, 2009.

An American geologist, Andrew Benham, discovered the area, which was between 40 meters and 2,000 meters below the waterline, in 1933.

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