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Lorenzana: Chinese ship surveyed Benham Rise for 3 months last year


Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday that a Chinese service ship was seen surveying Benham Rise, a 13-million hectare undersea region and biodiversity hotspot located east of Luzon.

"One of the Chinese survey ship is plying the Benham Rise already last year. It was monitored for about three months doing that," Lorenzana said during a forum on threat assessment. 

"So we have ordered the Navy if they will see this survey ship this year, start to accost them and ilayo sa eastern side of the Philippines," he added.

In 2009, the Philippines lodged a full territorial claim to Benham Rise with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The claim was granted in 2012, with Benham Rise granted to the Philippines as an extension of the country's continental shelf, some 350 nautical miles from the nation's shore.

Lorenzana added several survey ships are also surveying the West Philippine Sea.

"The really concerning thing is they have several ships plying this area. They will stay in one area, sometimes for a month as if doing nothing but we believe they are actually surveying the seabed," he said.

He said the ships were monitored mostly in Recto Bank or Reed Bank.

“According to our marine patrol, they have been monitored mostly in the Recto Bank, Reed Bank. They’ve been there many times because they have plotted the routes,” he said.

“It started sometime in July and it continued up to about December (last year),” he said.

He said they learned about it because the survey ship had an accident and unloaded their patient in Surigao City.

“We remember that clearly because that survey ship had an accident inside (the) ship when they were somewhere in central Philippines sa Pacific Ocean. What the ship did was to go to Surigao City, unloaded one patient there and left,” he said.

“The officers there, officials, brought the patient there to the hospital and when he got well he left for China so kaya alam namin na nandun sila,” he said.

He said the DND then started probing why the ships were there.

“We still have some friends who give us satellite photographs of what’s happening there and they give us information that these ships were actually plying the Benham Rise, north of the Philippines up to Surigao,” he said.

He said the Chinese survey ships were looking for submarine lanes.

“There is no report of oil deposit in that area but that is where the Philippine deep is, ‘yung malalim, the Philippine Trench. And according to some, they are actually looking for a place for submarines,” he said.

He said they have already submitted a report to the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding the incidents.

“‘Yung DFA sumulat na ng protest, a note verbale, to the ambassador but most of the time according to Secretary Yasay, sabi niya the Chinese ambassador just denied, we are not doing that, but it cannot be denied,” he said.

Lorenzana said the Philippine government will continue raising its concern and protest even though the Chinese Embassy would just dismiss their protest.

“They are trying to wear us down to that persistence so that later on maybe after a couple of, or one generation, of Filipinos, we will accept na sila na ang may-ari nun, so we'll keep on protesting,” he said.

“We cannot drive them away. We do not have the armaments or the might to dislodge them from those areas but we keep on protesting. Even if they ignore the protest, we will still protest,” he added.

In 2009, the Philippines lodged a full territorial claim to Benham Rise with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The claim was granted in 2012, with Benham Rise granted to the Philippines as an extension of the country's continental shelf, some 350 nautical miles from the nation's shore.

Scarborough Shoal

Lorenzana also said the plan of China to reclaim Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) last year was stopped by the US Navy.

“There was a plan by the Chinese in, I think, June to build, to reclaim Scarborough Shoal. In fact, we received a report from the Americans that there were barges loaded with soil and construction materials going to Scarborough Shoal but the Americans I think told the Chinese don’t do it,” he said. —MDM/KG, GMA News

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