De Lima seeks probe on Chinese ‘suspicious’ activities in Benham Rise

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Sen. Leila M. de Lima today sought a Senate probe into the suspicious maritime activities of the People’s Republic of China (PROC) in Benham Rise, the underwater landmass northeast of Luzon that was declared part of the country’s continental shelf.

In filing Proposed Senate Resolution No. 334, De Lima said she believes the Senate must ascertain the exact nature of these Chinese activities in the contested area in view of the threat of China’s military expansion in the Pacific region.

“There is need to ascertain the exact nature of Chinese activities in Benham Rise, especially with the threat of China’s expanding its military presence in the region,” she said in her resolution.

Last March 11, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed he has satellite images tracking down suspicious activities of Chinese vessels at locations near the Benham Rise for the three months last year.

He said a warship was spotted 70 miles off the western coast in the South China Sea, locally referred as West Philippine Sea, and survey ships seen to the north and south of its eastern seaboard.

Benham Rise is a 13-million hectare undersea region that lies east of Luzon and off the provinces of Isabela and Aurora. It is a massive formation of basalt, a common volcanic rock, and is described as a thickened portion of the Philippine sea plate’s oceanic crust.

The Philippines’ claim over Benham Rise was embodied in Republic Act No. 9522, also known as the Archipelagic Baselines Law. The United Nations, through United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), recognized and officially approved its claim to the territory on April 12, 2012.

De Lima also took issue on President Duterte’s apparent failure to notify Secretary Lorenzana of these Chinese suspicious activities in Benham Rise, leading to what she called “cavalier attitude” towards the ever-expanding Chinese presence in the region.

“The evident lack of communication between the President and the Secretary of National Defense is a major concern for our national security, leading to the President’s seemingly cavalier attitude towards the ever-expanding Chinese presence in the Pacific region,” she said.

“There is a need to investigate the national security lapse committed by the President in not informing the Secretary of Defense of prior communications by China with regard to their activities in Benham Rise,” she added.

De Lima said China cannot correctly claim that its ships were merely exercising navigational rights and freedoms because the Department of National Defense has satellite images to prove that its vessels were not moving from one place to another in a regular and efficient pace like any other foreign vessel.

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