China allowed to conduct research in Benham Rise, Cayetano confirms

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Updated to include statements from DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 19) —  The government has granted China's request to conduct maritime research in Benham Rise, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Friday.

Cayetano said China complied with the requirements, including having a Filipino scientist on board when they do the research.

"The Chinese ship said we will comply and there is a Filipino onboard and they will share and it benefits us. Why does it benefit us? Because there are three important things in scientific explorations — first, 'yung biodiversity, marine research, second, preservation of the environment," Cayetano told reporters, "Number 3, the minerals or the oil and gas or those that can be harvested."

It is the first time he confirmed the news, after opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano first said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) granted a Chinese think tank's request to study waters off eastern Luzon, where Benham Rise is, and Mindanao.

He said the project area covers resource-rich Benham Rise, which the government calls Philippine Rise. President Rodrigo Duterte renamed it in May 2017 after Chinese survey ships were spotted there in March.

Alejano said the permit allows the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences to be joined by the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute.

The United Nations has declared that Benham Rise, an undersea plateau 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province, is part of the Philippines' extended continental shelf where the country has the sole right to its resources.

French research team denied access to Palawan

Cayetano also confirmed DFA turned down a request from a group of French researchers to conduct marine scientific research in Palawan.

"The French ship, applied for a different area and the area was quite sensitive; and secondly, sabi nila maliit daw barko nila so hindi raw maga-accommodate ng Pilipino so nag-no tayo [they said their both was small so they cannot accommodate Filipinos so we said no]," he said.

The Foreign Affairs Chief also said President Rodrigo Duterte expressed approval to allow any country to conduct research in Philippine waters, provided they comply with the law.

"They asked eh, 'Sir can the Russians, Americans, explore?' Sasabihin naman ni Presidente basta sumunod sa batas payagan niyo. So general approval sa kanya pero hanggang sa Asec (assistant secretary) level 'yan. Let me check sa specifics 'yung date and everything," he said.

[Translation: They asked eh, 'Sir can the Russians, Americans, explore? The President would say as long as they comply with the law, you approve it. So that's a general approval up until the Assistant Secretary. Let me check the date and time specifics.]

International maritime law requires foreign researchers to share their findings with the host country - should they be allowed to explore an area.

Foreign research teams must include Filipino scientists in their work in the Philippines and in areas where the country has sovereign rights. It is the DFA that grants permits.

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Camille Abadicio and digital producer Eimor Santos contributed to this report.