After President Rodrigo Duterte shrugged off fears that China was encroaching into Benham Rise, his administration is now thinking of changing the group of islands’ name to Philippine Rise in a symbolic gesture of asserting sovereignty, according to the President’s spokesperson.
Ernesto Abella, presidential spokesperson, said the name change would “emphasize Philippine sovereign rights” over Benham, which Chinese ships had entered recently, raising fears that China was intruding into the area that had been declared by the United Nations as part of the Philippines’ continental shelf, or underwater landmass that forms part of the Philippines.
Mr. Duterte dismissed reports about Chinese intrusion into Benham, saying he knew about it beforehand and that the vessels that China sent to the area were there for research only.
Abella said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Office of the Executive Secretary had been tasked with fleshing out the plan to change Benham’s name to Philippine Rise.
Abella’s announcement came after Mr. Duterte, on Friday, said he was assured by China that it was not staking a claim on Benham. The President, however, did not say if China recognized Benham as part of Philippine territory.
The area, also known as Benham Plateau, is a 13-million hectare undersea region off the provinces of Isabela and Aurora that is potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits.
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Mr. Duterte had repeatedly said he would not risk irritating China over territorial issues in the South China Sea as he continued to look at the Asian giant as a source of financing for his big-ticket projects.
“The money from China is coming in. I think I made the correct decision to change course [on foreign policy],” the President said.
By: Leila B. Salaverria - Reporter / @LeilasINQPhilippine Daily Inquirer / 12:32 AM April 02, 2017