MANILA – Malacañang on Friday expressed concern over the reported presence of Chinese ship in Benham Rise, a vast body water located east of Luzon.
“We are concerned about the presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the Philippines,” said Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella in a statement.
Abella said the Department of National Defense has already notified the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the issue.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday satellite photos and incident reports indicate that China had sent a ship to Benham Rise.
“One of the survey ships is also plying the Benham Rise already. Last year, it was monitored for about three months,” Lorenzana said in a forum.
“We started to look at some of the -- we still have some friends who give us satellite photos, [and] these ships were actually plying the Benham Rise north of the Philippines [up] to Surigao.”
Lorenzana said he has given instructions to the Navy that if the survey ship returns, "accost them and drive them away."
Aside from Benham Rise, Lorenzana said Chinese survey ships were also spotted in South China Sea’s Recto Bank (Reed Bank), which is both being claimed by Manila and Beijing.
The revelation of the defense secretary could pose a challenge to the renewed ties between the Philippines and China under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Since assuming presidency last year, Duterte has sought closer ties with China, choosing to downplay the arbitral ruling on the South China Sea favoring the Philippines in exchange of reinvigorated economic ties.
The country's claim to Benham Rise, a 13-million-hectare area located east of Luzon island believed to be gas-rich, was approved by the United Nations in 2012.