MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 11:50 P.M) The Chinese vessel that spent three months — from November 2016 to January — in Benham Rise did not coordinate with the Department of Foreign Affairs, which had earlier turned down two requests by Beijing to deploy survey missions that did not include Filipino scientists.
Acting DFA executive director Maria Lourdes Montero told Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate committee on economic affairs that China did ask permission in 2015 and 2016 to undertake scientific research in the territory within the underwater plateau on the country’s Pacific Ocean side but this was denied based on the evaluation of various technical groups and when it was learned that no Filipino expert would be accompanying the expedition.
At the same time, she said they could not tell whether there was a breach of protocol because they did not have enough information about the details of the Chinese vessel’s activities.
China maintained that the vessel was only exercising “freedom of navigation” and recognized Philippine sovereignty over Benham Rise.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon told the same hearing that the country owned Benham Rise and, thus, enjoyed the exclusive right to explore and exploit the natural resources the territory is believed to be rich in.
However, he also admitted that vessels of other countries could not be barred from passing through the territory in exercise of their rights to freedom of navigation and innocent passage.
At the same time, though, Esperon said it was difficult to believe that the three months spent by the Chinese vessel in Benham Rise constituted innocent passage.
And while he said the Chinese ship may have breached economic protocol if it undertook research within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, it did not appear to have threatened national security.
Esperon stressed the importance of seeking the government’s permission to undertake research in Benham Rise adding that, aside from the DFA, it would be possible for the president to grant the permission.
He said government should prioritize research and scientific study in Benham Rise with the aim of developing it.
For now, Esperon said, his office did not see any clear threat to Benham Rise from China. He bristled, however, in an ambush interview after the hearing when reporters pressed him on the seeming disconnect between President Duterte’s cozy dealings with China and the tone of alarm in pronouncements of the DFA and the Department of National Defense on Beijing’s questionable intentions on Benham Rise.
Source: Interaksyon TV