From the Chairman
by Carlos L Agustin
An Order was issued proclaiming a Naval Reservation at Bicobian, Isabela by former President Ferdinand Marcos after the Karagatan incident wherein the CPA/NPA/NDF landed some 500 M14 rifles (made in China) on a fishing boat that ran aground at Digoyo Point, Isabela due to rough seas in mid-1972.
I later got ordered to move the RPS Iloilo (PS32) from Northern Palawan to the NORESCOM area in July 1972 and assumed as CTG 31.1. Before leaving Palawan, I asked CO, RPS Cebu (PS28) if Port Bicobian had lots of coconut trees. As the reply was NEGAT, I requested the Station Commander of PCG Loran Station Talampulan (near Busuanga) to give me about 100 coconut seedlings from his station, which he willingly provided. We brought these seedlings along with us.
When I entered Bicobian, I immediately realized that it was a great site even for a Naval Base. You can anchor and dock even capital ships (Battleships and Cruisers) so long as proper NAVAIDS (buoys and beacons) are installed near the entrance channel. It is well protected from the heavy northeasterly seas.
Sometime in Nov 1972, I escorted an LSM with a contingent of Seabees and the personnel of the newly activated Naval Station Bicobian from Tabaco, Albay (replenishment/ fueling point of TG 31.1). They started construction of the station HQ, barracks, a pier and support buildings. It was a good idea, I thought, as Naval Station San Vicente, on the northeastern tip of Luzon, was far and had difficulty supporting the army and PC troops in Isabela in the absence of larger patrol and supply ships.
In March 1973 I took over RPS Cebu (PS28) as RPS Iloilo (PS32) was sent back to Cavite for repairs. PS-28 was recalled to Manila after a few months.
Later for some reason the PN abandoned the station and I have no idea what happened. I thought it was a bad call.
I have, since I learned about this PN abandonment, been suggesting off and on the Maritime Forum that the Navy reestablish presence at Port Bicobian. Many senior naval officers support this idea, including Commo Jose Alano (who later became FOIC, PN and now USEC and DG, National Coast Watch Council) when I visited him in 2007 in the course of an NDCP MNSA Class field trip at his HQ in Poro Point, La Union.
Now with Benham rise, we should reactivate Naval Station Bicobian and perhaps invite PCG, DENR, BFAR, MGSB, PCARRD and NAMRIA to co-locate and keep the Navy company.
This view is not completely shared by all naval officers. One such oppositor is a former head of the PN Real Estate Management Office, who suggests that NS San Vicente should be sufficient. I don’t understand where he’s coming from.
My call for the reactivation of the Station arose after reading the posting of former National Security Adviser (and former Congressman) Jose Roilo Golez, BEWARE PHILIPPINES!!! PROTECT BENHAM RISE! BENHAM RISE, OURS TO PROTECT!
Golez said in his January 23, 2017 posting:
It's puzzling how some sectors are demanding fairness and equity from the US under Trump before the Philippines opens Philippines-US talks on a recalibrated relation, yet overlook and even set aside the fact that China occupies, patrols and blockades strategic parts of the West Philippine Sea, that China rejects and treats with contempt our hard-won victory in the Arbitral Tribunal and, worst, claims almost 90% of the West Philippine Sea.
Now I fear China has its lustful eyes on our East Sea.
BENHAM RISE IN PERIL? If we allow ourselves to be lulled by China's charm offensive, am afraid their next creeping move is towards our East Sea, it's lustful eyes on our 13 million hectare Benham Rise off Aurora province, awarded to us by the UN on April 12, 2012 as part of the Philippine continental shelf and territory. Before this award, our territory was only around 30 million hectares. Now, it is 43 million hectares with Benham Rise.
The China factor notwithstanding, Naval Station Bicobian and other facilities will certainly be a boon in protecting the Benham Rise territory from all sorts of encroachment. Moreover, the AFP should be proactive in bringing development to isolated areas.
For those who have little knowledge of Benham Rise, Golez also posted a May 18, 2016 article by Philippine Star news writer Rudy Fernandez, “10 Things to Know about Benham Rise” that appeared in PNA Nation. which I likewise reproduce herein:
What is Benham Rise? Where is its exact location? How can the Filipinos benefit from it? Here are 10 things people need to know about this undersea region called Benham Rise.
1. It is also known as Benham Plateau. This 13-million- hectare, seismically active undersea region is said to be located east of Luzon, and is 35 meters underwater at its shallowest point off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela. It is said to be wider than Luzon, Samar and Leyte combined.
2. Benham Rise was named after Andrew Benham, an American geologist who discovered it.
3. Despite Benham Rise’s proximity to the Philippine archipelago and despite the Philippines being the only country within 200 nautical miles of the plateau, it was not included in the Philippine islands territory before.
As such, in April 2009, the Philippines lodged a full territorial water claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
The Philippine government’s claim was based on the guidelines set by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the area satisfies the 350-mile constraint line. Moreover, the basis of the claim was also according to Republic Act No. 9522 (Archipelagic Baselines Law), which says that the region is bounded by the Philippine Basis on the north and east, and by Luzon on the west and south. Also, based on scientific data on seismic, magnetic and other geological features of Benham Rise, it indicates that the region is an extension of the country’s continental shelf.
4. In April 2012, the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) recognized and officially approved the Philippines’ claim that Benham Rise is part of its continental shelf and territory. With that, the Philippines’ territory has also increased to 43 million hectares from 30 million hectares.
5. Aside from expansion of territory, the Philippines will benefit from mineral and gas deposits in Benham Rise.
According to research, there is a massive mineral and gas deposits in the plateau, and this could help the country to achieve energy sufficiency.
Furthermore, solidified methane was found during mapping activities. That is why Benham Rise is believed to have massive oil deposits.
6. The government is exploring the possibility of tapping new gas fields like the Benham Rise. Senator Juan Edgardo Angara believes that the plateau is a good alternative for the Malampaya gas field.
The Benham Rise Territory (in red)
7. A team of Filipino experts conducted an exploration from May 3 to 18 and examined the marine life in the plateau. Fishing activities have occurred in Benham Rise even before the Philippines was officially awarded its territorial claim.
The exploration was a collaboration among University of the Philippines Diliman, UP Los Baños and Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR).
Researchers, scientists, seasoned dive specialists from UP Mindanao, UP Baguio, Xavier University, Ateneo de Manila University as well as from the local diving industry have joined forces for this expedition.
The team discovered 120 percent coral cover. The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) said the plateau is a shallow bathymetric feature that towers above the adjacent deep ocean floor with Benham Bank, the shallowest part that measures 50 meters deep.
8. The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources and Development (PCAARRD), an attached agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), has funded a program called “Exploration, Mapping and Assessment of Deep Water Areas.”
This aims to learn the dynamics of Benham Rise, and also to generate benchmark data as basis for the government to proactively manage its territory.
The program was implemented by the UP Marine Science Institute, UP National Institute of Geological Sciences and UPLB–School of Environmental Science and Management.
9. Experts from Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) and Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST) have expressed interest in conducting research surveys on Benham Rise.
As of Feb. 22, the DOST said there is no “offer” to collaborate with the agency, but an opportunity to partner with the two countries for research and development purposes which may include resource assessment.
10. By using their scientific expertise and exploring the Benham Rise, both Korea and Japan would understand better their areas that are prone to earthquake. Both countries would like to gain valuable information on earthquakes and the earth’s tectonic plates.
Need I say more?
(This article will appear in the Mar-Apr 2017 issue of the Maritime Review to be initially distributed on 17 March, 2017)