From CNN Philippines (May 12): Benham Rise is now Philippine Rise, and a protected food supply zone – Piñol
The government asserts the country's sovereign rights over Benham Rise by renaming it "Philippine Rise."
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, the highest-ranking government official so far to visit the area, on Thursday said President Rodrigo Duterte had approved the name change in a Cabinet meeting on May 8.
Philippine Rise is a 13-million hectare undersea plateau that lies 216 km (135 miles) east of coast of Aurora province. The territory is wider than the island of Luzon.
Related: Things to know about Benham Rise
Duterte has designated the area as a "protected food supply exclusive zone," Piñol said.
Mining and oil exploration activities are prohibited in Philippine Rise, which is believed to be rich in natural gas, oil, and minerals.
"I defended to the President that rather than focus on searching for mining or oil activities (in the Philippine Rise), we have to protect it because I see a P25-billion (food supply) potential there," Piñol said in a statement.
He made this observation after visiting the area on May 6 together with scientists and members of the media.
Watch: Scientists, journalists journey into Benham Rise
Filipino fishermen who travel around 20 hours from Infanta, Quezon to Philippine Rise catch big fish like yellowfin tuna which can earn them as much as ₱15,000 (US$ 300) in the market.
Piñol said Duterte had also given the go signal for the construction of a research facility and a command post at Benham Bank – the shallowest portion of Philippine Rise.
A command post would also deter illegal fishing on the grounds, he added.
During Piñol's visit, the government set up 15 fishing devices called a "payao" to help local fishermen who use only wooden boats with no radar or fish tracking devices.
Each payao costs P200,000. The device is attached to an orange buoy with branches of palm trees, which attract fish.
Malacañang first bared plans to rename Benham Rise in April, after Chinese survey ships were spotted in the territory in March.
China has admitted its ship was in an area east of the country but only on innocent passage, saying it recognizes the Philippines' sovereign rights there.
Duterte in a speech last April said he wanted to "officially claim [Benham Rise] as ours" by renaming it.
The United Nations ruled in 2012 that the undersea plateau is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. This means the country has the sole right to its resources.
Read: What you need to know about the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling
This is not the first time government renamed an area to assert the country's sovereign rights.
In 2012, former President Benigno Aquino signed an administrative order naming the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as West Philippine Sea.