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Asserting the country’s ownership of the Benham Rise, the government has warned foreign countries against staying and establishing any structure in the local territory.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government is ready to defend the country’s territory and regulate sailing ships passing through the Benham Rise.
“The Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino people and the Philippine government is duty-bound to defend and protect our sovereign and territorial right over this region,” Abella said in a Palace news conference.
“Other countries can exercise innocent passage and territorial navigation but they are disallowed to stay and establish any structure in the area,” he added following reports Chinese ships were spotted sailing the Benham Rise waters last year.
Abella argued that the country’s territorial claim is supported by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
He added that the Philippines has “a responsibility to oversee and regulate the sailing ships of other countries that pass through the waters around Benham Rise.”
President Duterte has also expressed support for the “improvement of capabilities of law enforcement agencies in monitoring Philippine airspace and territorial waters,” Abella said.
The Palace official, however, did not say how the government plans to strengthen the protection of the country’s territorial rights.
Still, he said the government is committed to pursue “diplomatic talks with the other party” concerning the territorial dispute.
The President earlier refused to pick a fight with China over Benham Rise, admitting he was informed beforehand about the passage of the Chinese survey ship in the area.
Duterte added that he does not consider the incident involving the Chinese ship as “incursion” into Philippine territorial waters due to a standing invitation to visit the country.
“There’s no incursion because may agreement kami. I invited… I will invite them to the shores of the Philippines for a visit,” he told reporters in the Palace last Monday. “We were advised of it way ahead,” he added.