Chinese survey ship spotted in Benham Rise, says defense chief

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2017 10:44 AM | Updated as of Mar 09 2017 01:42 PM

Benham Rise. File Photo

MANILA (UPDATE) – China could be trying to explore Benham Rise, Philippines' defense chief said, in what could be another source of conflict between the Asian neighbors.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday satellite photos and incident reports indicate that China had sent a ship to Benham Rise.

“One of the survey ships is also plying the Benham Rise already. Last year, it was monitored for about three months,” Lorenzana said in a forum.

“We started to look at some of the -- we still have some friends who give us satellite photos, [and] these ships were actually plying the Benham Rise north of the Philippines to Surigao.”

Lorenzana said the reason for the alleged Chinese survey in Benham Rise has yet to be determined, but a report reached him that the Chinese could be looking for a spot to place submarines.

Lorenzana also cited a report wherein a Chinese ship figured in an accident while plying Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean, prompting the Chinese team to send one of its men to a hospital in Surigao City.

“What happened in December was… that survey ship had an accident inside the ship when they were somewhere there in central Philippines, at the Pacific Ocean. What the ship did was go to Surigao City and unloaded one patient and left,” he said.

Lorenzana made this revelation just as the Philippines and China have been trying to renew ties strained by the bitter South China Sea dispute.

Since assuming presidency last year, President Rodrigo Duterte sought closer ties with China, choosing to downplay the arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines in exchange of 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.

Ownership of territories in disputed waters unsettled--Yasay


Posted at Feb 23 2017 12:12 AM

MANILA - There is no international decision on the ownership of the territories in the disputed areas in the South China Sea, according to Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay.

Yasay, who faced the Commission on Appointments on Wednesday, said the landmark decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration last year only covered whether or not certain portions of the disputed water are within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

"My position—and this is the position of the government, and this is the legal position also taken by the arbitral tribunal in its decision—is that the disputed territory in the South China Sea has never been adjudged to be belonging to any particular country," he said.

Yasay maintained, the court's decision was on "whether or not the South China Sea that we have claimed is part of our Exclusive Economic Zone, not our territory, because even as they have ruled in our favor overwhelmingly, this territory continues to be international waters."

He explained, foreign investors or international naval vessels can be there, but they may not stop the Philippines from exercising its "exclusive jurisdiction to explore, exploit, and utilize both living and non-living resources in that area."

Yasay said there is "no decision" on both the claim of China based on the nine-dash-line and the Philippines' claim of owning certain islands in this disputed territories.

"Therefore, the question about whether or not the Philippines own these islands or these features, or these areas or China ruling these islands, features, or areas has no legal basis under international law as yet," he said.

"These will have to be determined by another tribunal of competent jurisdiction," he added.

The official position of the Philippines, said Yasay, insofar as certain features it occupies such as Pag-asa island, is that "we have possession, legal possession of this territory."

He said it "can bloom into ownership, can bloom into part of our territory" when the appropriate arbitral tribunal and international law will be able to make a determination on that basis.

But Yasay asserted, if China were to engage in "provocative actions in encroaching into our 12-mile territorial limit" as is recognized under international law as part of Philippine territory, the Philippines "will have to make sure we will be asserting ourselves, defending ourselves, even using our force if necessary, and that will also incidentally kick in the coming into play of our Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States."

A report by Reuters, however, quoting two US officials, said that China is nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles.