MANILA - China still has pending requests to survey Benham Rise and they would only be granted should the country comply with requirements set by the Philippine government, the Philippines' acting foreign secretary said on Thursday.
Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said China has already been asking permission to survey the resource-rich undersea area northeast of the Philippines "for a number of years" now, and some have been denied.
"There had been many, but certainly, I know a number have been denied and in fact two are still under consideration, two or three requests [to visit Benham rise]," he said in an interview with ANC's "Headstart."
"They’ve had some requests from before and I think they’re waiting for a reply," he added.
Manalo said any country wishing to study Benham Rise has to secure permission from the Philippine government based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
However, China failed to comply with the condition that a Filipino scientist should be on board to observe their study, according to Manalo.
"That’s one [requirement] where perhaps China didn’t want it, so the permission was denied," he said.
Pressed if the government would be inclined to approve the pending requests from China, Manalo only said: "If they fulfill our requirements."
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Chinese survey ships were spotted in Benham Rise.
Manalo said Manila sought clarification from Beijing through a note verbale because "we weren’t really sure what it was doing."
In its reply, China said "they fully respect and recognize the sovereign rights of the Philippines on Benham Rise," noting as well that it is not an area under dispute, according to Manalo.
"This was confirmed two or three times. The implication is they will follow the rules laid out by UNCLOS, and that’s how we’re going to deal with this issue," he said.
"I think we were satisfied with their explanation that they recognize our sovereign rights," he added.