MANILA - Senator Antonio Trillanes IV wants a congressional inquiry into what is happening in the Benham Rise and if President Rodrigo Duterte "compromised" the country's rights in this area.
Similarly, a resolution has also been submitted at the House of Representatives to inquire about the government's direction in securing the country's interest, particularly the resource-rich area.
Duterte said Thursday he was "advised way ahead" before Chinese research vessels sailed over the undersea plateau off the Philippines' east coast. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier expressed concern over the ships' presence.
In an interview with ANC's Early Edition, Trillanes, a staunch critic of the administration, said he will file a resolution Wednesday afternoon to call for a probe regarding what is happening in the Benham Rise and if Duterte committed an impeachable offense.
"We need to find out the president already compromised our maritime claims in these areas. We also need to find out what the defense department is doing as regards protecting these areas," he said.
Benham Rise, an underwater plateau that stretches from the coasts of Cagayan and Bicol, was awarded to the country by the United Nations in 2012 after Manila successfully proved that it is part of Isabela province's extended continental shelf.
Though largely still unexplored, Benham Rise is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas deposits, apart from the marine life that may be exploited there.
Trillanes, author of the Archipelagic Baselines Law which has been submitted to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), asserted that the country has economic rights over these resources.
This, he said, despite China's correct statement the Philippines may not declare Benham Rise as its own territory.
"We don't have sovereign rights but in the sea bed the natural resources...it's covered within exclusive economic zone. We have economic rights over these areas--the seabed, all the resources within that particular area," he said, adding that even though China's statement is correct, "they don't have any claim at all in these areas."
Trillanes said Duterte may be impeached if he allows any foreign firm or government, the Chinese for example, to explore or to exploit the resources within the Benham Rise.
"He cannot, and that's why it's an impeachable offense. It's treason according to some, but that is yet to be defined legally," he said.
"But for now, we can say that it's an impeachable offense for him to compromise our sovereign claims without letting Congress give him a mandate," he added.
In the Lower House, Muntinlupa Representative Ruffy Biazon also filed a resolution seeking the government's strategic direction on the Benham Rise.
In an interview with ANC's Headstart, Biazon said lawmakers would feel "more secure" if they knew of the administration's strategy regarding the resource-rich area.
"The House of Representatives is not aware of what the strategic plan is with regard to Benham Rise. They might just not be telling us everything..We would feel more secure if we’re also informed," he said.
"It would be Congress which would be initiating appropriations for whichever activity to secure Benham rise," he added.