MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said it has sent a note to the Chinese embassy seeking clarification over the reported arrival last year of a survey ship in Benham Rise, a vast body of water located east of Luzon which became part of the Philippines' territory in 2012.
“The Philippines has expressed concerned about the reported presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as Philippine waters,” the DFA said in a statement.
“The Philippines has sent a Note to the Chinese Embassy seeking clarification on this.”
Earlier, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the government said the reported presence of the ship in Philippine territory has gotten the Duterte administration “concerned.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday satellite photos and incident reports indicate that China had sent a ship to Benham Rise.
Lorenzana said he has given instructions to the Philippine 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 being claimed by Manila and Beijing.
The revelation of the defense secretary could pose a challenge to the renewal of ties between the Philippines and China under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Since assuming the presidency last year, Duterte has sought closer ties with China, choosing to downplay the international arbitral ruling on the South China Sea favoring the Philippines, in exchange for 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.
While China claims almost the entire South China Sea, it has no claims over Benham Rise.