Coast Guard to patrol Benham Rise after reported Chinese presence

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is scheduled to patrol the Benham Rise for the first time following reports of Chinese presence in the region.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier confirmed that Chinese survey ships have conducted oceanographic research in the region.

PCG spokesperson Commander Armand Balilo said that they are still verifying the activities of Chinese vessels in Benham Rise.

Balilo said that the PCG has been monitoring the Chinese vessels in Benham Rise and the western seaboard including the Recto Bank.

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The spokesman admitted that the PCG has limited capability to patrol the region.

“We have challenges in the south that we have to attend to, the ASEAN security meeting, the security preparations. But as I’ve said, we have included that in the deployment plan and definitely, we will be there as soon as the weather is clear,” Balilo said in an interview Monday with CNN Philippines’ The Source.

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This would be the first time that the PCG would patrol Benham Rise after the declaration of the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that it is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Balilo noted that no one else was laying claim in Benham Rise until the UN declaration.

“Until such time that it was declared by UN as ours and people went there to examine, it’s a good source of food, it could sustain the food requirement of our country and then probably walang nagkakainteres noon,” Balilo said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had sent a letter to the Chinese Embassy in Manila to seek clarification on the reported incursion into the country’s territorial waters.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry insisted that the Philippines cannot claim Benham Rise as its own territory.

“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 and on the high seas, or their innocent passage through the coastal state’s territorial sea as supported by international law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said in a press briefing.

On the other hand, Article 77 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that a coastal state “exercises over the continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources.”

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