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Chinese ship intrusion in Benham alarms gov’t

The Philippine government has expressed concern on the intrusion of a Chinese ship in Benham Rise and pledged to continue to assert the country’s ownership over the area.

“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,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

“The Department of National Defense has already notified the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding this matter as we continue to assert our sovereignty over our territory,” Abella added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that China was possibly exploring the mineral-rich Benham Rise, located off the coast of Isabela and Aurora.

Lorenzana said satellite photos showed a Chinese survey ship was plying the Benham Rise for three to six months last year. He has directed the Philippine Navy to drive away the foreign ship if it returns to the area.

The incident comes amid the unresolved territorial dispute between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea.

A United Nations-recognized tribunal recently ruled that China’s territorial claims were illegal and baseless, virtually upholding the maritime entitlements of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.

President Duterte, however, decided to temporarily set aside the arbitral judgment and focus on revitalizing the country’s economic and trade relations with China.

Duterte said there would be a time in his term when he would raise the arbitral judgment with China “but not now.”

“I would like to assure China and this is what I have committed to do when I was there that we will talk as friends,” he said. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)