MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines asserted its rights over Benham Rise on Tuesday, March 14, after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he did not want to “fight” with China over this 13-million-hectare underwater plateau.
“Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino people,” Philippine Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday, a day after Duterte made his controversial remarks on Benham Rise.
Abella continued: “The Philippine government is duty-bound to defend and protect our sovereign and territorial right over this region. Other countries can exercise innocent passage and territorial navigation. But they are disallowed to stay and establish any structure in the area.”
“The Philippines has the responsibility to oversee and regulate the sailing ships of other countries that pass through the waters around Benham Rise,” he added.
Bigger than Luzon, Benham Rise is found off the coast of Aurora, on the eastern side of the Philippines. The Philippines fought for and won Benham Rise before the United Nations in 2012. (READ: Filipinos conquer new territory: Benham Rise)
On Monday, March 13, Duterte pointed out that China is also “claiming” Benham Rise. “But let us not fight about ownership or sovereignty at this time. Things are going great for my country,” he said. (READ: Duterte shows alarming confusion over Benham Rise)
Before this, China insisted on Friday, March 10, that the Philippines cannot take Benham Rise “as its own territory.”
Former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario on Tuesday noted “recent negative observations” on Benham Rise as well as the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In a statement, Del Rosario said this shows that “promoting national security, including protecting what is ours, must be paramount.”
“Under no circumstances would it be wise for us to trade away our national security,” Del Rosario said. – Rappler.com
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