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PH flag flies in Benham Rise

BENHAM RISE, Philippine Sea – Don’t call it a show of might; it’s just our way of marking our own territory.

That’s how Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Manny Piñol described the historic expedition here at Benham Rise that began Saturday.

“Of course. It could be a way of marking our own territory, marking our own fishing grounds. ‘Ito aming fishing ground ito (This is our fishing ground),'” Piñol said aboard MV DA-BFAR.

MV DA-BFAR was accompanied by three smaller ships – including one from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) – during the 20-hour trip which began 4 p.m. Friday at the port of Dinahican, a fishing village in Infanta, Quezon.

It’s the first high-level expedition of the Philippine government to the resource-rich Benham Rise in the country’s east. Piñol is the first Cabinet secretary to board the MV DA-BFAR in a trip.

“They can interpret it any way they want to,” Piñol said of the expedition. “I’ll insist that my concern is to protect and conserve the area as a source of food for future generations.”

“It’s like sending a message to those who want to exploit the resources to tell them this is ours,” added Piñol.

Benham Rise made news last March after it was reported that a Chinese vessel surveyed it with permission from President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

Piñol declined to comment on political matters regarding the submerged landmass, which in 2012 was declared by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as part of Philippine territory.

Two Philippine fishing vessels greeted MV DA-BFAR upon its arrival at the bank.

One of them, the Philippine-flagged FB Ron Erly-2 from Dinahican, hauled on board several big fishes. The highlight catch, however, was a yellow fin tuna estimated to weigh 40 kilos. (Ellson A. Quismorio)