Golez: The Philippines should not accept China's reason that their survey ship was just exercising the right to innocent passage inside Benham Rise. As can be seen from the map, Benham Rise is not a regular sealane for ships to pass through unlike other bodies of water. A survey ship does nothing else but survey.
So what else does a survey ship do but survey and we Filipinos would be considered the greatest fools if we do not assume that that Chinese survey ship carried out research or survey activities in Benham Rise. Innocent passage means direct transit, not stops. That survey ship was reported to have stayed for days inside Benham Rise, a violation of the rule on innocent passage.
China fooled us in Mischief Reef in 1995. China fooled us in Scarborough Shoal in 2012. Are we going to let China fool us again in Benham Rise in 2017 onward?
Here's what UNCLOS (Article 18 & 19) says about innocent passage:
1. Passage means navigation through the territorial sea for the purpose of:
(a) traversing that sea without entering internal waters or calling at a roadstead or port facility outside internal waters; or
(b) proceeding to or from internal waters or a call at such roadstead or port facility.
2. Passage shall be continuous and expeditious. However, passage includes stopping and anchoring, but only in so far as the same are incidental to ordinary navigation or are rendered necessary by force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress.
Meaning of innocent passage
1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.
2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:
(c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;
(i) any fishing activities;
(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;
China dismisses Philippine concerns over its ships' activities
BEIJING - China on Friday dismissed concerns expressed by the Philippine defense chief over what he believed to be survey missions by its ships deep into the southeast Asian nation's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said its ships had every right of freedom of navigation in those waters, and its research ships did pass through seas northeast of Luzon Island last year.
"But this is purely carrying out normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage, and there were no so-called other activities or operations," he told a regular news briefing.
"Comments from individuals in the Philippines on this do not accord with the facts."
Lorenzana on Thursday said Chinese ships were monitored in recent months at locations near the Philippines, with a warship spotted 70 miles off its western coast in the South China Sea and survey ships seen to the north and south of its eastern seaboard.
READ: Chinese survey ship spotted in Benham Rise, says defense chief [http://news.abs-cbn.com/news/03/09/17/chinese-survey-ship-spotted-in-benham-rise-says-defense-chief]
He said satellite imagery provided by allies had tracked Chinese vessels for three months last year in Benham Rise, a vast area the United Nations has declared to be part of the Philippines' continental shelf.
To the northeast of Luzon is the Western Pacific, where China is increasingly carrying out military drills.
Amid a warming relationship, President Rodrigo Duterte has frequently praised China, but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has remained openly suspicious, saying it has continued its fortification of man-made islands inside the Philippine EEZ.
China claims most of the energy-rich South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.