PH puzzled by presence of drone in Benham Rise

MANILA, Philippines – National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr confirmed that a drone had been spotted in the Benham Rise area but said security officials have yet to tackle this as the government has yet to receive a "full report" on the incident.

"There were reports from our troops that there is truth in it, but we want to get the full report before this could be discussed in the National Security Council," Esperon said at a Senate hearing on the proposed Benham Rise Development Authority on Wednesday, March 29.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate economic affairs committee leading the hearing, asked Esperon: "Was it launched somewhere nearby? I don’t think it can fly? Where will that be, especially potentially it came from the Philippines? Saan nanggaling (Where did it come from)?"

Esperon, former Armed Forces chief, said he has no idea on the origin of the drone which the Philippine Navy spotted flying over Benham Rise.

The navy had sent the BRP Alcaraz, one of its most capable warships, to the area following reports that China showed interest in the territory declared as part of the Philippines' continental shelf.

"I have not seen the exact location of the BRP Alcaraz, so I could not tell how far it was from our land. But it was reported by troops. Why would they report it if it was coming from ours?" Esperon said.

"Drones are simply for, meant for imagery equipment. They could be taking pictures," he added.

During the Senate hearing, Esperon said that so far, he saw "no threat" to the Philippines in Benham Rise.

Contrary to the statements of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said he was advised that China was sending survey ships to Benham Rise, and that he did not see it as an incursion in the country’s waters.

The Chinese survey ship was in the area from November 2016 until January 2017. Duterte had what he called a successful state visit to China in late October.

The President had also expressed confidence that China would not build structures in the Benham Rise, which the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf confirmed as part of the Philippines' continental shelf in 2012.

Duterte ordered an increased presence in the region. China, in response, issued a statement saying it respects Philippine sovereign rights over Benham Rise, and that Beijing is not going to claim ownership of the undersea plateau off eastern Luzon coast. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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