PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has revealed that China had assured the Philippines it would not claim Benham Rise, the vast underwater landmass northeast of Luzon declared part of the country’s extended continental shelf.
In remarks during the culmination of International Women’s Month Friday night at Malacañang grounds, Duterte said he learned of Beijing’s position during a joint command conference by the military and the police, where he was also told that the Philippines has sole sovereign rights over Benham Rise.
“I received word regarding Benham Rise, we talked about it during the command conference,” Duterte said.
“They explained that China said, ‘We will not claim Benham Rise. Benham Rise on the right side of the Philippines, part of the continental shelf,’” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed in March that Chinese survey ships had been spotted at Benham Rise for as long as three months last year. The Philippine Navy has since deployed ships to regularly patrol in the area.
Beijing said it was only “exercising navigation freedoms and the right to innocent passage, without conducting any other activities or operations” on the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise.
According to Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, China has “two or three” pending requests to survey Benham Rise, after previous requests were denied.
Duterte later admitted that he allowed China to survey Benham Rise even without the knowledge of the Department of National Defense and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
On Thursday, Malacañang assured the public that the administration was not sitting on the issue of Benham Rise and the separate maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte was striving to “safeguard the national interest, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“On the issue of Benham Rise, Scarborough Shoal, and the disputed features in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines will continuously uphold and assert our rights,” Abella said.
Benham Rise, located east of Aurora province, is believed to be a rich source of natural gas and other resources like heavy metals.
China last month said the Philippines could not claim Benham Rise as its own territory even after a United Nations body ruled in 2012 that it was part of the country’s extended continental shelf.