MANILA — Malacañang has expressed concern over the presence of Chinese survey ships in the vast Philippine territory near the Cagayan Valley called the Benham Rise.
The 13 million-hectare Benham Rise is located at 250 kilometers northeast of Isabela, which the United Nations has declared a Philippine territory being part of its continental shelf.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella says the Department of National Defense has already informed the Department of Foreign Affairs about the report.
Abella noted that the Philippines is asserting its sovereignty over the said territory.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said that Chinese survey ships were also spotted last year in the Reed bank in the West Philippine Sea and near the Benham Rise.
Lorenza has already instructed the Philippine Navy to accost and drive away the Chinese ships spotted near the area.
Should another Chinese ship appear in Benham Rise, which is near Aurora and Isabela, Defense Secretary Lorenzana has ordered the Philippine Navy (PN) to accost and drive away the vessel from the country’s eastern seaboard.
“Another thing, one of their survey ship is also plying the Benham Rise already, last year, I think it was monitored for about three months going there, so I have ordered the Navy that if they see this survey ship this year start to accost them and driving them away also from the eastern side of the Philippines,” the DND chief stressed.
The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is believed to be a fuel-rich area and awarded to the Philippines by the United Nations in 2012.
Previously, Chinese survey ships were also seen off Scarborough Shoal and Reed Bank surveying the sea bed for possible mineral deposits, he added.
The Chinese has gained total control of Scarborough Shoal (also known as Panatag) after a stand-off with the Philippine Navy in April 2012.
Lorenzana said China may be casting a covetous eye on Benham Rise and could be scouting for sites to park its submarines as its ships had been sighted in the area with one ship figuring in an accident.
If unchecked, the Chinese action could become another source of conflict between the Asian neighbors, who had already tangled earlier in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) where Manila complained against Beijing’s “excessive” claims in the South China Sea with its nine-dash line claim. China lost that claim in a UN tribunal ruling.
Lorenzana said satellite photos and incident reports on the China ships provided the basis for his alert.
While the motivations for the reported Chinese survey have yet to be confirmed, Lorenzana said reports reaching him showed the Chinese could be scouting for a spot to place their submarines in .
In fact, he said, a Chinese ship figured in an accident in Benham Rise, prompting the survey team to send one of its men to a hospital in Surigao. “So we know they are there,” Lorenzana said.