Investigate Duterte-China deal on Benham Rise, Congress urged
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV wants the Senate to investigate a supposed agreement between President Duterte and Chinese officials allowing Chinese vessels to go to Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare, resource-rich underwater landmass off the coast of Aurora province.
In the House of Representatives, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon said he would file a resolution for an inquiry into the government’s “strategic direction in securing Philippine interests on its eastern seaboard.”
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, for his part, said Mr. Duterte might have committed treason if he had allowed China to survey Benham Rise.
“The fact that the President is making arrangements with a foreign nation who is known to grab islands in the South China Sea without the knowledge of the SND (Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana) and the Filipino people could be tantamount to selling out or treason itself,” Alejano said.
The United Nations declared in 2012 that Benham Rise was part of the Philippine continental shelf.
Trillanes filed on Wednesday Senate Resolution No. 331 seeking an investigation by the Senate committee on national defense and security and other appropriate committees.
In the resolution, the senator noted that on March 9 Lorenzana reported that a Chinese survey ship was monitored on Benham Rise for three months last year and that on March 10, the Department of Foreign Affairs wrote the Chinese Embassy to clarify the matter.
The Chinese foreign ministry dismissed on March 10 Lorenzana’s claim, saying that the passage of the survey ship was an exercise of its right to freedom of navigation and to innocent passage.
On March 12, Lorenzana said the country might intensify its naval presence and even build structures on Benham Rise on orders of the President.
But on the same day, the President said the country could deploy the military to the area.
The President on March 13 said that he allowed the Chinese surveillance ships as part of an agreement and that no incursion should take place.
“There is an immediate need to look into the inconsistencies between the statement 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, and could lead to a large geopolitical dilemma thereby diminishing the Philippines’ assertion of sovereign rights,” Trillanes’ resolution said.
Trillanes told reporters that any agreement between the President and Chinese officials should be investigated as it led to Chinese surveillance vessels operating on Benham Rise.
In a statement, Biazon said the Philippines “must take decisive measures to prevent China from creeping into Benham Rise since our country’s sovereignty is at stake … It’s clear that we must adopt a strategic plan on developing our capability to protect our rights over Benham Rise.”
Alejano said Mr. Duterte’s statement that he knew Chinese survey ships were on Benham Rise contradicted that of Lorenzana’s. The defense secretary expressed concern over the Chinese presence last year on Benham Rise.
“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?” Alejano said.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said there was no basis for Trillanes’ threat to impeach Mr. Duterte over his statements about Chinese presence on Benham Rise.
“No treason, betrayal of public trust, bribery, graft and corruption, and high crime was committed,” Abella said.
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