MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte might ride a personal water craft (jet ski) when he visits the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) on Tuesday.
Palace staff said this is one of the scenarios that might take place during the President’s visit today at the resource-rich waters.
At least seven jet skis were spotted on board the BRP Davao Del Sur, where the President will board in going to the Philippine Rise.
During the campaign for the 2016 elections, Duterte promised to ride the jet ski to the Spratlys archipelago in South China Sea and plant a Philippine flag there.
He would later take back this plan, saying he does not want to offend China, which has several artificial islands in the Spratlys.
Critics, meanwhile, are less impressed with Duterte’s visit Benham Rise.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, earlier said the continental shelf is not a contested area and the government should instead work on asserting its rights on the South China Sea.
The United Nations had in 2012 awarded Benham Rise to the Philippines as an extension of its continental shelf. With the ruling, the country was granted “sovereign rights” over Benham Rise, which means the Philippines has the exclusive rights to explore and exploit resources there.
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.
Benham Rise was also put on the spotlight after it was revealed that China has 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.
Duterte’s tough rhetoric on Benham Rise is starkly different from his stand on the South China Sea, waters being claimed almost entirely by China.
Critics have been slamming Beijing’s activities in the disputed waters, including its building of artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago and its “militarization” of the area.
Duterte has chosen to downplay the dispute as he seeks to improve Manila’s ties with Beijing.
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 in 2013.
The tribunal ruled in favor of Manila in 2016, declaring China’s expansive nine-dash line claim to the sea invalid. Beijing has ignored the landmark ruling. - with Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News