‘Let’s not fight over sovereignty at this time,’ says Duterte on Benham Rise
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday brushed off a recent remark by Beijing that the Philippines cannot claim full ownership of the mineral-rich Benham Rise despite recognition of sovereignty from the United Nations.
“Let’s not fight about ownership or sovereignty at this time because things are going great for our countries,” Duterte said in a press conference in Malacañang. “I can’t match the might of China – kita mo kanina (see) how they prepare for terrorism? Wow. Why would I pick a fight, I’d rather talk.”
Asked what actions he would take if China would start building structures in Benham Rise, Duterte added: “They will not do [that] at this time.”
In a regular press briefing last Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said the Philippines cannot take Benham Rise as its own territory, even as he reiterated that the reported passage of a Chinese survey ship through the Philippines territorial waters was innocent and unintentional.
“According to international law including UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), a coastal state’s rights over the continental shelf do not affect the legal status of the superjacent waters or of the air space above those waters, nor do they affect foreign ships’ navigation freedom in the coastal state’s EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and on the high seas, or their innocent passage through the coastal state’s territorial sea as supported by international law,” the Chinese official said.
As defined by the 1982 UNCLOS, Benham Rise, also known as Benham Plateau, lies within the continental shelf of the Philippines. The undersea landmass in the Pacific Ocean is potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said a Chinese survey ship was seen sailing around the region for three months last year, adding that he had received reports indicating the Chinese were looking for possible submarine stations.
Last week, Malacañang voiced concern over the development and vowed to assert the country’s sovereignty over its territory.
Benham Rise, named after American geologist Andrew Benham who discovered the area in 1933, is a 13-million hectare undersea region off the provinces of Isabela and Aurora.
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