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Philippines questions Chinese presence at Benham Rise

The undersea Benham Rise, or Benham Plateau, is considered the Philippines' extension as declared by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Namria graphic

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent on Friday a letter to the Chinese embassy in Manila following reports on the presence of Chinese ships at Benham Rise which has been declared part of the country’s exclusive economic zone.

In a statement, DFA said that it had sent a note to the embassy of China to seek clarification on this reported incursion into the country’s territorial waters.

The Philippines also expressed its concern on the presence of Chinese ships in the area which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

READ: China survey ships spotted at Benham Rise

“The Philippines has expressed concern about the reported presence of Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as Philippine waters,” the DFA said.

This action came after the Department of National Defense (DND) notified the DFA on this development.

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Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that this latest move from the Chinese was "very worrying."

Lorenzan had issued a directive to the Navy to drive away any Chinese ship seen in Benham Rise.

According to the country’s top defense official, the Chinese vessels were scouting for a place to put submarines in the area.

Malacañang had registered a similar concern on the presence of the ships.

"We are concerned about the presence of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, which has been recognized by the United Nations as part of the Philippines," Ernesto Abella, the presidential spokesperson, said in a statement.

This latest diplomatic issue between the Philippines and China comes just two days after the Philippine Commission on Appointments rejected the designation of Perfecto Yasay as the country’s top diplomat. In rejecting his appointment, the CA said that Yasay lied about his citizenship.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy Enrique Manalo was appointed on Thursday by President Rodrigo Duterte as acting head of the department.

The United Nations approved the country’s undisputed territorial claim over Benham Rise in 2012. Situated around 250 kilometers east of Isabela, Benham Rise is believed to hold untapped natural resources. It is believed to be larger than Luzon, Samar and Leyte combined.

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