PH won't press China over Benham Rise trip

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 04 2017 11:08 AM | Updated as of Apr 04 2017 11:42 AM

Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo on Tuesday said there is no need for China to explain why its research vessel lingered near the Benham Rise for months.

In a forum, Manalo said the Chinese have "repeatedly" recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights over the continental shelf. He said China's reaffirmation of "respect" for the Philippines' as the sole claimant of the Benham Rise came after the DFA sent formal letters to clarify the Xiang Yang Hong 03's presence in the area.

"What they did reply was they recognize our sovereign rights over the Benham Rise... That's quite enough because it indicates that they realize that they need permission to be there in certain parts of Benham Rise," Manalo said.

The Foreign Affairs department has yet to ask China why the same research vessel sailed near Leyte and other waters east of Visayas.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. earlier said China may have committed a "potential breach" when it sent a ship to navigate around the Benham Rise for around three months.

"They (Chinese) stayed for several months... Three months of lingering in the area is not simply innocent passage or freedom of navigation," Esperon said.

He added: "There is a potential breach [of national security] but it being a research ship which did not conduct any soundings or researches on the seabed, I would not put it in the security fence but rather on the economic side of things."

Manalo said the Philippines "denied" China's requests to probe the Benham Rise "to explore for whatever scientific activities."

"They have continuously applied for permission... in a number of occasions they have been denied... because they have not complied with some of the requirements," Manalo said.

Manalo declined to enumerate which requirements were not met by China.

Despite the lack of permission, the DFA is not keen on pressing Beijing for more answers over its research expedition near the Philippines.

"We did ask China for their explanation and that was their reply... They respect our sovereign rights... I would be very happy with the reply they said," Manalo said.

Marine experts said the the Philippine government has the right to ask China to give the "full data" gathered by its research ship in the Benham Rise and other areas within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.