MANILA, Philippines – Benham Rise is part of Philippine territory, President Duterte made clear yesterday even as he ordered the military to assert the country’s rights over the area in a friendly way.
“My order to the military is to tell them straight that it’s ours and say it in friendship,” the President said in a press conference yesterday at Malacañang.
Duterte’s pronouncements came on the heels of the Chinese foreign ministry’s statement that the Philippines has no right to claim Benham Rise despite a UN declaration that it is part of the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
Duterte’s friendly tone also differed from that of his defense chief Delfin Lorenzana, who had expressed concern over the presence of Chinese vessels in Benham Rise.
The President said the Chinese government had informed him beforehand of its plan to pass through Benham Rise. He also expressed belief the presence of Chinese ships in the area does not constitute an incursion.
“We were advised way ahead but we have the right to ask ‘how are things going? What is your purpose?’” the President said.
“We don’t want to dignify (that). Things are getting great our way. Why spoil it?” he added.
Duterte believes that reports about the presence of Chinese ships in Benham Rise were just exaggerated.
He said he is confident there are no strings attached to China’s commitment to support Philippine projects.
“Why pick a fight? I’d rather talk. Kung gusto nila ng show of force doon, papuntahin ko Navy. Pagdating doon, banggain mo lang sa likod then say sorry naglalambing lang po. May amin kami diyan. Ganun lang (If they want a shpowof force, I will send the Navy, ask them to bump them a little then say sorry, just showing affection. We own that. That’s it),” the President said in jest.
In Beijing, the foreign ministry said the Philippines cannot claim the mineral-rich Benham Rise as part of its territory despite the area’s being within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as recognized by the United Nations.
While acknowledging the 2012 approval by a UN commission of the Philippines’ submission in 2009 regarding the limits of its continental shelf in Benham Rise, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Friday the approval “does not mean that the Philippines can take it (Benham Rise) as its own territory.”
It was the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which decided on the Philippines’ submission.
Citing international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Geng said a coastal state’s rights over a continental shelf do not affect the legal status of the superjacent waters or of the air space above those waters, freedom of navigation and innocent passage.
The UN confirmed that Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare area off the coast of Aurora province, is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf and territory. Benham Rise has untapped natural resources, including rich mineral deposits, and is said to be wider than Luzon, Samar and Leyte combined.
On Saturday, Manila officially sought Beijing’s explanation on the reported presence of one of its vessels in Benham Rise in the Pacific.
“The Philippines has expressed its concern about the reported presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as Philippine waters,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Geng confirmed the reported presence of its ship in eastern Philippines last year but maintained that it was simply exercising freedom of navigation.
Defense Secretary Lorenzana on Thursday expressed concern over the latest incursion of China on Philippine territory and ordered the Navy to accost or drive away Chinese ships if these are seen again in the area.
Yesterday, Lorenzana said the Philippines would deploy more patrol ships to Benham Rise or possibly set up structures in the area. – Michael Punongbayan
Seismic research vessel of the type typically used by China before mining the sea bed
Tags: AFP, Benham Rise, China, Chinese ships, exclusive economic zone, freedom of navigation, mineral deposits, Philippine military, Philippine Navy, Philippines, Philippines’ continental shelf, South China Sea, to set up structures in the area, UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, untapped natural resources