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World | National

Trillanes seeks probe of 'Duterte-China research agreement' on Benham Rise

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. file photo
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Wednesday sought an investigation into the alleged agreement between President Duterte and China, allowing Chinese vessels to conduct marine surveillance in the Benham Rise area.

In Senate Proposed Resolution No. 331, Trillanes said the resolution meant to come up with remedial legislation to uphold the country’s territorial integrity and assert its exclusive sovereign rights over the Benham Rise Area. Acting on the Philippines' application in 2012, the UN's Committee on the Limits of the Continental Shelf conferred exclusive sovereign rights on the Philippines over the resource-rich Benham Rise, which is considered an extension of the country's continental shelf.

The huge undersea land mass east of the Luzon mainland is known as a marine biodiversity zone and is believed to hold gas deposits.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed last week that a Chinese marine survey vessel was in the area for three months last year, and there were indications it was on a mission to scout for suitable parking zones for China's submarines.

“Now, therefore, be it hereby resolved, as it is hereby resolved by the Philippine Senate, to direct the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security and other appropriate committee/s to conduct an inquiry, on the alleged agreement between president Duterte with China,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes noted the contradiction in the pronouncements of President Duterte and Defense Secretary Lorenzana regarding the presence of the Chinese surveillance ships in the area.

Such presence, he said, “potentially threatens the territorial integrity of the country, and could lead to a larger geopolitical dilemma thereby diminishing the Philippines’ assertion of sovereign rights.”

Lorenzana reported on March 9 that for a period of three months last year, the Philippine defense establishment monitored a Chinese survey ship in the Benham Rise area, and he said it was quite possible the Chinese were looking for a suitable place in which to park their submarines.

On March 10, 2017, the Department of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the Chinese Embassy in Manila seeking a clarification on the reported presence of the survey ship.

 On the same day, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed the claim of Lorenzana about the possible scouting mission for submarine parking, noting this as “inconsistent with facts.” He argued that the passage of the survey ship through the Benham Rise was an exercise of their rights to freedom of navigation, and to innocent passage without the conduct of operations or activities.

The claim of “innocent passage” notwithstanding, Lorenzana said on March 12 that the country might intensify its naval presence and may even build structures to strengthen its right over the Benham Rise.

On March 13, President Duterte said he allowed the Chinese surveillance ships as part of a supposed agreement and that no incursion shall take place. He added that he didn’t want to start a fight over Benham Rise because he wants economic help from China.

 “His [Duterte's] pronouncements were in contradiction with the statement of Defense Secretary Lorenzana that the presence of the surveillance ships were very alarming and the increased military presence is necessary,” Trillanes said.