At least for now, no threat from any nation to claim Benham Rise.
National security adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. said yesterday.
“We don’t see [any threat]. There could be; but we don’t see any right now. We are also aware of the pronouncements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China saying that they recognize our sovereign rights over the Benham Rise,” Esperon said
“I don’t see [any potential claim] in the near future,” he added.
Esperon said other countries are allowed to fish in the area provided that they are given permission by the Philippines.
He said foreign ships may pass through Benham Rise as provided by their “freedom of navigation” and “innocent passage.”
“But they may not exploit resources in our seabed,” Esperon stressed.
Earlier this month, Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana revealed that a Chinese survey ship was spotted plying Benham Rise from November 2016 to January of this year.
“The really concerning thing is they have several ships plying this area. They will stay in one area, sometimes for a month as if doing nothing but we believe they are actually surveying the seabed,” Lorenzana said.
China dismissed concerns over the presence of its survey ship in Benham Rise and assured that it recognizes the Philippines’ claim over the undersea region.
It was in 2012 when the Benham Rise officially became part of the Philippines after the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ruled that the area fell under the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Esperon said China can conduct “research” in the area if they ask for permission to do so when they are within the Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ.
“Three months of lingering in the area is not really simply innocent passage or freedom of navigation. Research was conducted but it could not be established whether it was outside the EEZ or not, because they went down,” he explained.
Esperon also said that President Rodrigo Duterte is allowed to give permits to other countries -- “whether done verbally or not” -- to survey Benham Rise.
“From my point of view, I’d like to say that the exercise of giving permits can also be exercised by the President, whether it’s done verbally or not,” Esperon said.
Esperon said however that ideally, securing permits to survey the area is done “government to government” through the Department of Foreign Affairs.