Orders of President Duterte to add more patrols in the Benham Rise send strong message to foreign ships

MANILA — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Thursday said after President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered two concerned government agencies to add more patrols in the Benham Rise, the message is clear that no one is allowed to send research vessels without seeking clearance from Philippine government.

In a press briefing, Acting DFA Secretary Enrique Manalo said President Duterte instructed the Philippine Coast Guard to lead in patrolling the area supported by Philippine Navy.

He said China ships, including their research vessel that were spotted in the area, moved at slow pace while Chinese Coast Guard and their Navy vessel were in a distance.

According to Manalo, the Philippines respect freedom of navigation to all foreign vessels who just want to pass the area.

“China has just reaffirmed the Philippine government that they respect our sovereign rights over Benham and President Duterte has already given his instructions to actively send more patrols in the Benham Rise area,” Manalo told reporters in a press briefing.

He said that they had constant communications with the Department of National Defense and the Department of Transportation vowed to give them updates on what was the latest on Benham Rise.

He said ships of any country could pass by Benham Rise without asking for clearance from our government because we do respect freedom of navigation .

“But the fact that this is within the jurisdiction of the Philippines, any foreign vessel should asked permission from the Philippines if they wish to undertake research,” he explained when asked if foreign vessels can just make research without informing Philippine government.

He added that exploring oil or extracting other forms of minerals within our jurisdiction was not allowed.

According to Manalo, Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Philippines has the sole right to explore, exploit and manage the natural resources of Benham Rise.

“It is very clear that it is within our territory under the 2012 United Nations ruling on this issue,” he stressed.

Asked about the note verbale the Philippines sent to China, he said the Philippines was still waiting for clarification why their ship passed by at slow pace which was not normal.

The Philippines’ claim to Benham Rise, a 13-million-hectare area located east of Luzon island and believed to be rich in gas, was approved by the United Nations in 2012.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang had acknowledged the 2012 ruling of the United Nations but said “it does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory.”

Geng confirmed Chinese vessels for “marine research” passed through Benham Rise, but insisted this was only in exercise of the principle of “freedom of navigation” and “right to innocent passage.” Sammy Martin/PNA-northboundasia.com