Trillanes seeks probe into Duterte 'deal' with China on Benham Rise

UNDERWATER PLATEAU. Found near Aurora, the 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is part of the Philippines' continental shelf.

Screenshot from a document the Philippines submitted to the UN

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Wednesday, March 15, filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into President Rodrigo Duterte's alleged deal with China, citing Duterte's go signal for Chinese ships to ply the Benham Rise region.

Trillanes filed Senate Resolution Number 331, urging the committee on national defense, chaired by Senator Gregorio Honasan II, to probe the President's confusing statements.

On Monday, March 13, Duterte was asked in a press conference in Malacañang about the Chinese ships in Benham Rise. (READ: Duterte shows alarming confusion over Benham Rise)

His response, however, first referred to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines: "My orders to my military is: You go there and tell them that this is ours but I say it in friendship."

"The Americans naman, maghintay na tayo manggulo. Bakit ako manggulo doon? (The Americans will wait for us to cause trouble there. Why should I cause trouble?) I cannot match the might of China," Duterte added.

This is contrary to what Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the Philippines might intensify its naval presence and even build structures over Benham Rise to assert its sovereign rights.

Trillanes said there is an "immediate need" to probe Duterte's confusing statements, as the issue involves the country's sovereignty and territory.

"There is an immediate need to look into the inconsistencies between the statements of President Duterte and Defense Secretary Lorenzana regarding the presence of Chinese surveillance vessels in the Benham Rise area, as it potentially threatens the territorial integrity of the country," Trillanes said in his resolution.

This, he added, "could lead to a larger geopolitical dilemma thereby diminishing the Philippines' assertion of sovereign rights."

Under the Aquino administration, Trillanes served as the government's backdoor negotiator with China.

His role even became a subject of a clash between him and former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, when the latter read Philippine ambassador to China Sonia Brady's notes on her meeting with Trillanes then. The notes, Enrile argued at the time, showed that Trillanes was favoring China. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, 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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