• Is Benham Rise the next Scarborough Shoal?

    18

    Ricardo Saludo

    ARE Chinese ships encroaching on Philippine territory in Benham Rise?

    Expect politicians and media to shout Yes!, then whip up a supertyphoon over the reported sailing of a Chinese vessel in vast waters off the coast of Aurora and Quezon provinces for three months last year.

    “Recto, Gatchalian: Stop Benham Rise falling into Chinese hands,” said one online headline. Senators Ralph Recto and Win Gatchalian have called on the government to protect the 130,000-sq-km undersea plateau said to be rich in fish and perhaps manganese and natural gas.

    “No ifs or buts,” declared Recto in a statement. “The government must have a Benham Rise protection strategy. A comprehensive strategy—military, diplomatic, economic—in holding on to and developing Benham Rise. We cannot be caught unaware.”

    Gatchalian added: “The government must take immediate action to defend our exclusive sovereignty over the Benham Rise to ensure that this potential will be developed and utilized to benefit the Filipino people.”

    And Recto warned of hostile forces possibly surrounding the country: “We have practically lost the seas west and north of us. We cannot be encircled. The eastern side of the country should be defended as well.”

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was the first to express concern. He said last week that the Chinese ship stayed in the Benham Rise area for three months last year. He added that since August, the Department of Foreign Affairs had written several notes to China, citing the vessel, though the DFA has said nothing about such notes.

    Some ships stayed in the relatively shallow waters of Benham Rise, said the defense chief, “as if doing nothing, but actually, they are surveying the sea floor, the sea bed.” He suspected that the Chinese were looking for a undersea site to park submarines, based on intelligence from an ally, probably the United States, which had given the Philippines reports and pictures of Chinese maritime activities in the past.

    Last Friday, the Palace got into the act. Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella told Palace media: “We are concerned about the presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the Philippines. The Department of National Defense has already notified the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding this matter, as we continue to assert our sovereignty over our territory.”

    When fears trump facts
    So, are we back to square negative-one in our dealings with China, half a year after President Rodrigo Duterte’s successful October visit, and just days following the signing of contracts for infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars, to be funded by China.

    With the done deals witnessed by Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan, President Duterte declared: “Let me publicly again thank President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people for loving us and giving us enough leeway to survive the rigors of economic life in this planet.”

    Don’t look now, but one can see Duterte critics and anti-China quarters accusing Beijing of buttering him up with massive aid, while quietly encroaching on our maritime zones.

    Such a view can very well take hold, fed by fear and distrust toward China, as seen in a Pulse Asia survey in early December. While America and Japan enjoyed high trust among over 70 percent of Filipinos, most distrusted China and Russia.

    Now, Palace and Senate officials are accusing Chinese ships of intruding into “Philippine territory” in Benham Rise, and the public will believe it — even if it’s untrue.

    Here are the facts: The seas beyond 12 miles from shore — the limit of territorial waters — are international waters, where foreign vessels can conduct innocent passage. So, Chinese ships in Benham Rise never intruded into Philippine territory.

    Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, the Philippines does have the sole right to undertake economic activity in waters within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), stretching up to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the coast. The country enjoys similar rights over the seabed up to 320 nm (592 km) from shore in the extended continental shelf (ECS).

    There are no reports that the Chinese ships were doing any fishing, undersea mining, oil exploration, or similar activities. Secretary Lorenzana said the ships were surveying the ocean floor. based on allied intelligence; China denied it. In fairness to both sides, there is need to produce and evaluate evidence before we can say who’s telling the truth.

    The American connection
    Notably, too, if information about the Chinese ships came from the US, then there may be conflict of interest. The Americans may have reason to incite conflict between China and the Philippines, so as to justify increased rotations of US forces in the archipelago, plus access to Philippine military bases, as stipulated in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

    Last year President Duterte threatened to abrogate the EDCA. In January, after Secretary Lorenzana announced that the US would build facilities in Philippine bases earmarked for its forces, Duterte fumed over the alleged entry of American weapons in Philippine bases. He feared that those armaments would be magnets for attack if there is war between America and China.

    Now, if there is nationwide alarm again over alleged Chinese incursions, Duterte may have to implement the EDCA, and end his rapprochement with Beijing.

    Ironically, US forces have actually violated Philippine territorial waters far more than China has done in Benham Rise.

    As the US Navy reports to American congressmen every year, its vessels deliberately flout the maritime rights of several countries under the UNCLOS, which Washington has never ratified, though it repeatedly calls on Beijing to abide by it.

    Iran is the country subjected to the most deliberate violations of its UNCLOS waters. And the second most violated by the US? The Philippines.

    Washington doesn’t recognize the UNCLOS provision granting archipelagic states like ours certain sovereign rights over the territorial seas within the baselines running around our main islands. So, the US Navy deliberately violates our territorial seas to assert freedom of navigation.

    Now, what do our leaders have to say about that?

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    18 Comments

    1. One simple question that needs an answer: If China has already violated the rule on the West Philippine Sea, tell me one logical answer why China will not violate the international law on the East Philippine Sea? China is famous for faking, stealing, fuc.king around. Just to make money China exports fake, imitated and below standard products into the United States. The reality is China wants the fish, oil and natural gas in the Philippine Sea West and East! I hope that President TRUMP will give a devastating lesson to strike militarily North Korea first to give signal to China. China as the US secretary of state said, must leave their illegally occupied Philippine sea.

    2. There is a way to this, which is to hold as long as we can, as Pdigong is doing, peace, with China and the US. But at the same time and more quickly, we should modernize or acquire more military assets rapidly and silently. This we will see when the President travels to Russia April this year. We should also develop the area, Benham and West Philippine Sea, by putting structures, again, discreet☺

    3. JACINTO BAYBAY on

      There has been one too many wake up calls. Its time to act and assert Philippine sovereignty.

    4. Since your elected officials are too scared to lift a finger to confront the chinks who do not respect your soverignty, the Filipino people must torque the government to respond and shake up the military to support your fight for your rights as a sovereign. The chinks quote the rule of international law on traversing or exploitating the benham rise area in the pacific ocean but will claim international intrusion and meddling (US, Japan, India) to their sovereign rights of claim in the scs, which is international waters. This is two sided bull shit from the slant eyed cocroaches. The author states “PH does have the sole right to undertake economic activity in waters within its exclusive economic zone”. Who gave the chinks the authority to explore and exploit the eez at Benham rise. As stated by their slant eyed spokesman in previous news, the chinks were/are exploring the area.. Perhaps the international community should explore and exploit the scs, including exploring the chinks eez off their mainland, within 50 miles of shore and park there for months.
      It ‘d be interesting to see what these roaches will do and how they wil react.

      The PH need to learn a lesson from Vietnam. The chinks are way stronger than its asian neighbors militarily, even than most countries of this world, and has used and is using its might to concerce and bully its asian neighbors. Vietnam has fought and will fight back against the chinks intrusion to its eez and protect its right as a sovereign nation. The whole country (government, military, and populace) works together to confront the chinks intrusion. Although by far a lot weaker country than china in military and econmic scale, also aware it will suffer large collateral damages, it will fight to survive and protect its soverignty.

      Unlike the Ph who will not lift a finger, too worried of being too weak, too poor, too worried of collateral damage, too busy cannibalizing its own citizens, and too busy scamming each other, the government refuses to confront the chinks. Result are, the chinks do no respect the PH as a independent country, will take what they want without hesistation, without bounds, and without reprimand. Since the PH do not need help from anyone, and the chinks demands no international interference whatsover in asia, the PH has become an easy prey for the bully. It will become a chink province in the future unless it populace and military work together to torque or get rid of its corrupted, inept, worthless elected officials..

      • Second the motion! As I noted before, yes, the Phil should take Vietnam as a model of firm and fierce opposition to the Intsik intrusion into its domain. Weak that the Phil is before the behemoth territory-grabber, the traditional Filipino courage that expelled colonizers like Spain and USA needs not fear the haughty and voracious split-tongued Intsik.

    5. Pensador de Manila on

      I am honestly so hurt on the way DU30 was handling the case won by the Philippine against China in the west Philippine. Du30 made the Republic of the Philippine a displaced state in her own territory. I can not really understand DU30’s mind in bartering the Philippine territory versus China’s hopeful investment in the Philippine. This is a very wrong mathematical economic calculation. Now, China is bullying again the Philippine in another corner of its territory. Who should be blamed for it? Du30 is trying to show to the world that he is a strong leader, but for me, he is very weak and unreasonable; he does not lead the country by a reason based on right principle. Sorry Philippine- you are bartered to China’s wishful investment in your own land to squeeze you more up until you are dried up to the last drop of your blood.

    6. Amnata Pundit on

      I think Duterte should replace asap American boy Lorenzana and install a Defense Secretary who is not trying to sabotage Philippine – Chinese relations every time he opens his mouth. I also think we should invite the Russians and the Chinese to set up military bases here to neutralize the Americans and reap the economic benefits from such an arrangement, like what they have done in Djibouti. This will show in stark contrast the peanuts we are getting from the Americans in exchange for exposing us to the risk of war. Also, Duterte should ask the Russians and the Chinese to help us fight the armed insurgents like the Abu Sayaf, the NPA and the MILF. Sa ganitong paraan mabibisto ng tao ang attitude ng mga Kano na palaging pinapanigan ang ating mga kalaban, lalo na pag gamit ng human rights issue, withholding of aid, threats of reviewing trade deals, etc. P#t#nginang mga Kano yan, dapat mawala na dito sa mundo yang mga demonyo na yan.

    7. To the author. You’re editorial is incorrect and reckless.

      “The seas beyond 12 miles from shore — the limit of territorial waters — are international waters, where foreign vessels can conduct innocent passage.” Wrong. UNCLOS allows ships to conduct Transit Passage not Innocent Passage in another state’s EEZ. Innocent passage only applies for vessels entering another state’s territorial seas.

      “The Americans may have reason to incite conflict between China and the Philippines, so as to justify increased rotations of US forces in the archipelago, plus access to Philippine military bases, as stipulated in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.” Foolish. Why would the United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines plalce itself in position to defend the Philippines from China, their primary trading partner? Are you saying the US is willing to sacrfice its economic interests in order to further its security interests in the Pacific? You’re smoking crack.

      “Iran is the country subjected to the most deliberate violations of its UNCLOS waters. And the second most violated by the US? The Philippines.” You lose alot of credibility when you make off-putting statements that lack facts. All USN vessels (ships or planes) apply for diplomatic clearances before entering Philippines territorial seas or air space.

      “Washington doesn’t recognize the UNCLOS provision granting archipelagic states like ours certain sovereign rights over the territorial seas within the baselines running around our main islands. So, the US Navy deliberately violates our territorial seas to assert freedom of navigation.” Again, wrong. The Philippines re-drew their baselines in 2008 and was accepted be the US.

      To do author: your research lacks facts and this column only fed another piece of misinformation to the Filipino public. Shame on you.

      • Amen Patrick, Amen… the author of this article didn’t do his homework and it seems like this article was written by a six grader that didn’t do any research.

      • The PH is a hopeless state. No amount of help will help it out of its own problems. After your leader announced to the whole world that it does not need any help from anyone, that it is an independent state, he went on to beg china. Now you want to beg for help from russia. Good luck with your begging and your problems.

      • Thank you for your comment, Patrick. Later today, I’ll post links to authoritative material on which the article is based.
        Just on one point, while the U.S. accepted the 2008 baselines, what it doesn’t accept is the UNCLOS principle that waters within the baselines, like the vast Sulu Sea between Palawan and Mindanao, are territorial seas where the Philippines has certain sovereign rights, like requiring foreign vessels to notify Philippine authorities when they pass through.
        More later. Thank you.

      • Finally, some facts checking to keep some of these authors from promoting and circulating chink propaganda on this platform. Thanks for posting a reply.

        Reply below was intended for the comment by a. pundit (above your reply). Stuck it in the wrong place.

      • Thank you again, Patrick, for your comments. Here are links to material that support statements in the article which you have cited.
        On innocent passage as opposed to transit passage, thank you for pointing out that transit passage applies to exclusive economic zones, particularly those EEZs that form part of straits, channels or similar waterways connecting larger bodies of water, such as the Malacca Strait linking the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (see “Innocent Passage and Transit Passage in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Yale Journal of International Law, pp. 391-405; ).
        Transit passage, it turns out, is less restrictive than innocent passage, for which the sovereign state has the right to determine whether the sailing is innocent or not. By contrast, vessels in transit passage, which applies to the Chinese ships passing Benham Rise, need not comply with any state’s criteria for innocence. That means they are subject to less restrictions than, say, US ships in innocent passage through Philippine territorial seas.
        Which brings us to the issue of US recognition of the Philippines’ territorial seas. The US Department of Defense Freedom of Navigation Reports advises the American Congress of naval sailings challenging maritime rights asserted by other countries, as seen in the reports filed in 2015 and 2016 .
        The Philippines is listed among the nations subjected to US Navy sailings to assert freedom of navigation against maritime claims challenged by Washington. The Philippine territorial position objected to is: “Claims archipelagic waters as internal waters.”
        The US does not accept Article I of the Philippine Constitution, stating in part: “The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.”
        Thus, even if the US accepts the 2008 baselines declared by the Philippines, it still sends naval vessels to challenge the Constitution’s claim that all waters within the baselines are part of our national territory.
        The foregoing addresses factual issues raised in the comment. In addition, you expressed an opinion, to wit:
        “[Quoting from the article] ‘The Americans may have reason to incite conflict between China and the Philippines, so as to justify increased rotations of US forces in the archipelago, plus access to Philippine military bases, as stipulated in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.’ [End of quotation from the article]
        “Foolish. Why would the United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines place itself in position to defend the Philippines from China, their primary trading partner? Are you saying the US is willing to sacrifice its economic interests in order to further its security interests in the Pacific? You’re smoking crack.”
        One point: The conflict that may be incited need not be violent. In that case, there would be no need for the US to engage Chinese forces, with the mammoth economic costs it entails.
        Notably, the 2012 confrontation between China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal did not lead to hostilities. But the loss of Philippine control of the shoal led the administration of then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd to sign the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US.
        A similar confrontation over Benham Rise, if it is instigated, could get the EDCA implemented. But that’s just an opinion.
        Thanks again, Patrick.

      • For some reason, the online links to the cited material did not appear in the comment. They are provided below:

        “Innocent Passage and Transit Passage in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Yale Journal of International Law
        http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1267&context=yjil

        US Department of Defense Freedom of Navigation Reports for 2015 and 2016: https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=763695
        http://policy.defense.gov/Portals/11/Documents/gsa/cwmd/FON_Report_FY15.pdf.

        I hope the moderator allows the links to appear. Thank you.

    8. Just, wondering if the actions of Du30 on defending the country’s sovereignty, even verbally, with the Chinese surveying Coast Guards for three month in our territory, is an impeachable offense. He took an oath as president that he will defend the country and its constitution, in which he did not do. instead he defended the Chinese intrusion with his permission, as it was reported at yahoo.com today.

    9. If you ever watched the “Madam Secretary” episode last Sunday, this will give us an idea why Duterte is not surprised at how China takes some parts of the Philippines in a piece meal way. Duterte already sold most of the islands of the Philippines in billions of pesos to China and in addition to this will be a refugee status of Duterte and his family to migrate to China if Duterte will be forced out of Malacanang. Fellow Filipinos, please wake up and analyze how China befriended Duterte to occupy some parts of the Philippines in return of billions of dollars. Remember that China “invented” bribery. If you still love the Philippines, please do something to protect it from China. Kick out Duterte and his allies.