MANILA—Malacañang on Tuesday asserted that Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino people even as it cited the need for improved capabilities to protect Philippine sovereignty over its territories.
“First and foremost, the Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino people. The Philippine government is duty-bound to defend and protect our sovereign and territorial rights over this region,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella stressed during a Palace briefing.
He pointed out that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) supports the Philippines’ claim on the maritime feature east of Luzon.
Benham Rise was awarded to the Philippines by the United Nations in 2012.
“The Philippines has the responsibility to oversee and regulate the sailing ships of other countries that passes the waters of Benham Rise,” he said.
Thus, the Palace official said that other countries were only allowed to pass through Benham Rise.
“Other countries can exercise innocent passage and territorial navigation. But they are disallowed to stay and establish any structure in the area,” Abella said.
The Palace official issued the statements following reports from the Department of National Defense (DND) that several Chinese vessels were monitored in the region last year.
But Beijing claimed that its vessels were only exercising its right of innocent passage, a claim being disputed by the DND.
Besides being a biodiversity hotspot, the 13-million hectare area located off the Aurora and Isabela coastline is also believed to be fuel-rich.
In the meantime, Abella said that during the National Security Council (NSC) meeting late Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte gave his full support to the improvement of capabilities of law enforcement agencies in monitoring Philippine air space and territorial waters.
“The President did agree that we should improve capabilities of enforcing our rights in the matter… enforcing our rights regarding airspace and territorial waters,” he said.
The Palace official added though that the Philippine government will continue diplomatic talks with China.
“Having said that thing about Benham Rise, we will continue to pursue diplomatic talks with the other party,” Abella said.