Malacañang on Thursday said China did not receive “special treatment” when it was allowed to conduct research in Philippine Rise, a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau about 250 kilometers east of Isabela and Aurora provinces.
“We did not give any special treatment. It was not just China that was given the chance to conduct a scientific research there,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a radio interview.
The United States and Japan were also given permission to conduct research in the area, said to be rich in biodiversity and minerals, he added.
Roque also downplayed concerns that research conducted by the Institute of Oceanology Chinese Academy of Sciences would provide China “military advantage.”
Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez earlier warned that China’s research in Philippine Rise, also known as Benham Rise, would help the Chinese Navy hide submarines there, as the underwater plateau has “a good area for submarine channels which an oceanographic survey can reveal.”
‘PH security threat’
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “submarines can hide in those channels, constituting a threat to the security of the Philippines and our allies in the Western Pacific,” Golez added.
A Philippine Navy official who declined to be named because he had no authority to speak on the matter, said there were fears that PLA Navy might also plant sensors in the undersea region.
But Roque countered: “I don’t understand what military advantage they’re talking about because our sovereign rights there in Benham Rise are very, very clear,” he said.
PH continental shelf
The presidential spokesperson cited the 2012 UN ruling that said Benham Rise is part of the Philippines’ extended continental shelf under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Palace official said that Beijing was also “required” to share results of its scientific study with Manila.
“We gave them two requirements: First, there should be a Filipino with them when they conduct the research. Second, the results of their scientific study should be cleared with the Philippines,” Roque said.
There was “no basis (for China) to make a claim (as it) recognizes that we have sovereign rights in Benham Rise,” he added.
In August last year, China objected to the makeshift structures that the Philippine military tried to put up on a sandbar in the Spratlys.
Despite an arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines’ claims over some islands in the West Philippine Sea, President Duterte ordered a stop to the construction. —PHILIP C. TUBEZA