Interest in Benham Rise
THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez (The Freeman) - March 31, 2017 - 12:00am

It seems the Chinese interest in Benham Rise is not new. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), China has made several requests in the past to survey Benham Rise. All have been turned down because they did not meet certain requirements, like requiring a Filipino scientist to join in the survey. Since they have not amended their requests, it is obvious they do not want a Filipino finding out whatever they will discover.

This really brings into question the recent discovery of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise, that according to Defense Sec. Lorenzana loitered in the area for three months. This cannot be classified as "innocent passage". You don't drop anchor and say you're only passing through. Moreover, it really questions the supposed agreement between the Chinese and President Duterte. Duterte claims that an agreement exists for the Chinese to sail to Benham Rise, something the DFA and the DND have no knowledge of, and something the Palace cannot clearly explain. According to acting Foreign Affairs Sec. Enrique Manalo, there are certain requirements that China has to comply with before being allowed to do anything in Benham Rise. Were they already given the go signal by Duterte, which is why they sailed into Benham Rise and stayed for three months? Or is it because they were already confident Duterte would vouch for them, whatever they do? To this day, the government cannot ascertain what exactly the ship did in Benham Rise for it to stay for three months. For all we know, they have already surveyed the seabed, which is a violation of our sovereign rights to the area.

Two TC-90 aircraft on lease from the Japanese have arrived in the country. Japan has agreed to lease the aircraft for a very nominal fee, in order for the country to boost its surveillance of its area, particularly the exclusive economic zone. Japan has its own territorial issues with China, so they understand the importance of guarding and exercising sovereign rights. The Philippine Coast Guard is also requesting that a port nearer to Benham Rise be built, so they can patrol the area more effectively. Right now, the nearest port is in Cagayan, which is a day's voyage away from Benham Rise. A port in Quezon or Aurora would greatly reduce the sailing time.

You really wonder just how much China wants to dip its finger into almost everything. It is not enough that they practically have full control of the South China Sea, with construction on the so-called "Big 3" artificial islands almost complete. They want to know what's in Benham Rise as well, on the opposite side of the region. Analysts say that with the completion, the South China Sea becomes a virtual military installation for China. The islands have runways for almost all types of aircraft. They already have structures for military surveillance and weaponry. They don't need aircraft carriers to patrol the region, they have these islands. They also say that it is only a matter of time before they start building on Scarborough Shoal. For now, we will all have to take the word of President Duterte in saying that the Chinese will not build on Scarborough. Just like we have to take his word that there is an agreement between him and the Chinese regarding Benham Rise. I wonder what the Chinese will do once the TC-90 planes start flying over the South China Sea.

THAT DOES IT
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