MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte was not alluding to China when he issued a warning against countries that would violate the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise).
“The President's statement that incursions in the Philippine Rise would trigger war is not directed at China. China has already recognized that we have sovereign rights over the area,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Duterte on Wednesday asserted that the Philippines has exclusive rights to explore and exploit resources in the resource-rich underwater plateau located east of Isabela unless other countries get permission to conduct studies there.
China had undertaken underwater exploration there.
The President issued the same warning in a speech Thursday in Davao City.
“If anybody, any country for that matter, would say that they’d want to try and experiment there without our permission and worse, begin exploration talks here at Benham or Philippine Rise, I will not allow it, and it will mean war,” Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino in front of police officers and troops.
The United Nations had in 2012 awarded the Philippine rise 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.
The Philippine Rise was also recently put on the spotlight after it was revealed that China 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. China has ignored the ruling and ramped up militarization activities in the contested waters.
Duterte, however, sought to improve frosty ties with China when he became President, much to the dismay of his critics.