National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that China has no business of going to Benham Rise as China invokes right to innocent passage and freedom of navigation. “As far as we are concerned, they have no business going there kasi kung innocent passage–alam mo naman ang innocent passage–from point A to point B, dirediretso lang iyan at constant and steaming speed,” the defense chief told media reporters during the graduation ceremony of Philippine Military Academy Salaknib Class of 2017 as quoted by GMA News Online.
“Ang nakita nating survey ship nila napakabagal eh tapos tumitigil sa isang lugar, nagtatagal doon ng ilang araw, lipat naman sa kabilang lugar so that is not innocent passage but we will accept the explanation of the Chinese,” Secretary Lorenzana said.
However, the Defense Chief said the government will trust what China says.
“Eh sabi nila innocent, mga innocent passage lang naman iyon at saka wala naman daw silang masamang tangkain doon. We will leave it at that. We will trust what they say. But at the same time we will keep patrolling our area and find out kung pumupunta pa rin sila doon,” he added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang confirmed that Chinese vessels sailed in the said region, however, he denied conducting any other operations.
“Chinese vessels for marine research did sail across relevant waters to the northeast of Luzon, the Philippines last year, exercising navigation freedoms and the right to innocent passage only, without conducting any other activities or operations. The remarks by some individuals from the Philippines are not consistent with the facts,” Geng said during March 10 press conference.
He also said “according to international law including UNCLOS, 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.”
The Chinese spokesperson also said the award of UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf regarding Benham Rise “does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory.” He said the Philippines can only “carry out exploration and development of natural resources in this region.”
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