Updated 21:26 PM PHT Tue, March 14, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — As far as the Philippine government is concerned, there's no reason to argue over Benham Rise.
Charles Jose, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said, "Yes, sa Pilipinas yan! Walang duda roon, no? In-award na ito sa Pilipinas bilang bahagi ng ating EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and extended continental shelf...Eto talaga, indisputable."
[Translation: Yes, it belongs to the Philippines! There is no doubt about that. This was awarded to the Philippines as part of its exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf...This is indisputable.]
Controversy over the underwater plateau broke out last week when Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed Chinese survey ships were spotted in the area last year. He said the ships lingered for months.
Lorenzana says China's statement is technically correct because no country can possess the high seas in the same sense as land.
Jose threw the statement back at China.
"Well, technically speaking, wala namang bansang pwedeng umangkin sa karagatan, no? In the same manner na hindi pwedeng angkinin ng China ang South China Sea dahil hindi naman nila territory 'yon," he said.
But the government is one in saying the Philippines has exclusive rights to explore and use the resources in Benham Rise.
"Other countries can exercise innocent passage and territorial navigation, but they are disallowed to stay and establish any structure in the area...The country has the responsibility to oversee and regulate sailing ships of other countries that plans to do waters around the Benham Rise," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
So the next question is, can the Philippines establish its presence over Benham Rise?
"Meantime, we will send siguro yung patrols natin (maybe our patrols), and then we will study what we can put there to exploit also the resources," Lorenzana said.
The Navy and the Coast Guard are both busy expanding their fleets and trying to increase their capabilities. The coast guard plans to start patrolling Benham rise in may but it's unclear if this will be done regularly.