MANILA has sent a note to the Chinese embassy demanding an explanation on why a Chinese survey ship last year entered the Benham Rise, an undersea region off the coast of Aurora province in the eastern Philippines.
“The Philippines has expressed concerned 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,” said Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, on Friday.
“The Philippines has sent a note to the Chinese Embassy seeking clarification on this,” he added.
Malacañang vowed to assert Philippine sovereignty over the country’s territory as it likewise expressed concern over the reported presence of the Chinese survey ship in Benham Rise.
“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,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed that the government had monitored in 2016 a Chinese ship surveying the 13-million hectare undersea region and biodiversity hotspot.
“One of the survey ships is also plying the Benham Rise already. Last year, it was monitored for about three months,” Lorenzana said in a forum at Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters.
“We started to look at some of the – we still have some friends who give us satellite photos, [and]these ships were actually plying the Benham Rise north of the Philippines [up]to Surigao,” he added.
Lorenzana said he had given instructions to the Navy to “accost” and “drive away” the surveying ship if it returned.
The Defense chief made the revelations as the Philippines and China renew ties strained by the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute in the previous administration.
Since assuming the presidency last year, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought closer ties with Beijing,
choosing to downplay July 2016 international ruling favoring the Philippines in the maritime dispute in exchange for reinvigorated economic ties.
The country’s claim to Benham Rise, an area east of Luzon island believed to be gas-rich, was approved by the United Nations in 2012.