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DND mulls more patrols off Benham Rise

Feb. 9, 2017 file photo of Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, at a Camp Aguinaldo briefing.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - To demonstrate Philippine sovereignty and control over Benham Rise, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is mulling over the increase of patrols in the area.

The maritime feature is located off the Aurora and Isabela coastline.

According to Lorenzana, the increase of Filipino patrols in the area would demonstrate to everyone that the area is under Filipino jurisdiction.

"Well, we will do something there: may we will increase our patrols; at the same time, we might set up a structure to says that (Benham Rise) is ours," Lorenzana said in Filipino.

Earlier, China claimed that its vessels were only exercising right of innocent passage when the DND announced that several Chinese survey ships were spotted in the locality last year.

Lorenzana disputed this Chinese claim and said ships exercising right to innocent passage steam on a definite course and speed and do not constantly change their courses and speeds.

The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is believed to be a fuel-rich area and in 2012 was awarded by the United Nations to the Philippines, which had sought it declared as an extension of the country's continental shelf.

Previously, Chinese survey ships were also seen off Scarborough Shoal and Reed Bank surveying the sea bed for possible mineral deposits, Lorenzana pointed out.

The Chinese gained total control of Scarborough Shoal (also known as Panatag) after a standoff with the Philippine Navy in April 2012.

Benham Rise belongs to Filipinos

Meanwhile, 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 DND that several Chinese vessels were monitored in the region last year.

Beijing claimed that its vessels were only exercising right of innocent passage, a claim being disputed by the DND.

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.a