MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday countries violating the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) are risking war.
In a speech in conflict-stricken Marawi City, Duterte asserted that the Philippines has exclusive rights to explore and exploit resources in the waters unless it allows other countries to conduct studies there.
“May pinadala ako na doon na Marines, isang batalyon. Sinabi ko talaga, 'walang mage-experiments na diyan hangga’t wala silang permiso galing sa akin (I have sent Marines there, one battalion. I said there will be no experiments there unless they get my permission), but the Armed Forces will have to recommend it,” Duterte said.
“Otherwise, no. I will not allow fishing, I will not… magkagiyera tayo (we will go to war).”
The United Nations had in 2012 awarded the resource-rich underwater plateau located east of Isabela as an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
The President earlier issued an order that foreign researchers who wish to conduct studies on Benham Rise would need the permission of the National Security Adviser.
This followed heavy criticism against the government for allowing China to explore the area despite its unresolved disputes with the Philippines over the South China Sea, resource-rich waters on the archipelago's west coast.
Benham Rise was also recently put on the spotlight after it was revealed that China has managed to name five features there following an unauthorized research trip in 2004.
The Philippines then said it would come up with its own names for the said features and also contest China’s move, even as it admitted it has no capacity to do expeditions similar to the ones undertaken by the Chinese.
The Philippines and China have for decades been embroiled in a dispute over the South China Sea. It reached a critical point during the presidency of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who led the filing of a case against Beijing before a United Nations-backed tribunal.
The tribunal ruled in favor of Manila in 2016, declaring China’s expansive nine-dash line claim to the sea invalid.
Duterte, however, sought to improve frosty ties with China when he became president, much to the dismay of his critics.