For the first time, the Philippine Coast Guard conducted a Maritime Domain Awareness flight over Benham Rise on Sunday, a GMA News report said.

Coastguard personnel used a Britten Norman Islander aircraft to inspect the 13-million-hectare expanse of the extended continental shelf located east of Luzon’s coast.

Given the distance and the expanse of the Benham Rise, the PCG personnel needed to refuel their aircraft in Baler, Aurora before proceeding with the flight.

.@chinogaston PCG Nomad aircraft had to refuel at Baler, Aurora due to extreme distance of Benham from Manila. | via @chinogaston
— GMA News (@gmanews) April 2, 2017

Earlier, the Navy’s cutter BRP Ramon Alcaraz surveyed the vast waters of the potentially resource-rich undersea plateau.

In 2012, Benham Rise officially became part of the Philippines after the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ruled that the area is under the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed last March 9 that the government had monitored in late 20016 a Chinese ship surveying the marine area and it stayed there for three months.

President Rodrigo Duterte on March 13 said that he had an agreement with China allowing research activities in the area.

Amid questions on the supposed research permit, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. last Wednesday clarified that Duterte is allowed to give permits to other countries — “whether done verbally or not” — to survey Benham Rise.

Esperon has assured Filipinos that there is no threat from any nation on Manila’s claim on Benham Rise.

On the other hand, the Department of Foreign Affairs had said that China made at least two requests to conduct marine scientific research in Benham Rise, both of which were denied.

Beijing and Manila have been embroiled in territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea. But China made clear that there will be no dispute with the Philippines over Benham Rise.