MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines – through its ambassador to Beijing Jose Santiago Santa Romana – has officially asked China to explain the reported presence of one of its vessels in Benham Rise in the Pacific, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.
“The Philippines has expressed its concern 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,” the DFA said in a statement.
“The Philippines has sent a note to the Chinese embassy seeking clarification on this,” it added.
DFA spokesman Charles Jose yesterday said that they are still awaiting the Chinese response through official channels, but cited the media statement of the Chinese foreign ministry regarding the matter.
“But this is purely carrying out normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage, and there were no so-called other activities or operations,” he told a regular news briefing. “Comments from individuals in the Philippines on this do not accord with the facts.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday expressed concern over the latest incursion of China on Philippine territory and ordered the Navy to accost or drive away Chinese ships if these are seen again in the area.
“The very concerning thing is they have several service ships plying this area, staying in one area sometimes for a month as if doing nothing. But we believe they are actually surveying the seabed,” the defense secretary was quoted as saying.
“You know we have to protest because we have to show to these people that we consider those areas as ours,” he added.
Citing satellite monitoring, the defense chief said a Chinese service ship had to sail from Benham Rise to Surigao City and dock to have one of their sailors undergo hospital treatment after an accident.
Benham Rise, an undersea plateau larger than the island of Luzon, is believed to contain rich mineral and gas deposits.
The United Nations recognizes Benham Rise as part of Philippine territory. A team led by scientists from the University of the Philippines explored the shelf in 2014.