Duterte warns of war vs. unauthorized Benham Rise explorations

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President Rodrigo Duterte (FILE PHOTO).

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2) — President Rodrigo Duterte said he will wage a war against those who explore and experiment in Benham or Philippine Rise without permit.

"(If) anybody, any country for that matter, would say that they'd want to try and experiment there without our permission and worse begin exploration talks there dito sa Benham or Philippine Rise, hindi talaga ako papayag [I won't agree], and it will mean war," Duterte said in a speech in Davao City Thursday.

The President said Marines have already been deployed in the area. He added he will visit the Benham Rise to defend the country's sovereign rights.

"But we will never agree to an insult like that na just because ganito lang tayo. Kaya sabi ko, 'you start to f*** with that — in that area — I'll go to war,'" he said.

Earlier in February, the President said he will order the Navy to fire at those who try to exploit resources in Benham Rise.

READ: Duterte: If you take from Benham Rise, I'll order Navy to fire

Benham Rise, located 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province, is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippines has sole right to explore for and exploit oil, gas and other mineral resources in Benham Rise.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified on Thursday Duterte's statements on waging war.

"The President's statement that incursions in the Philippine Rise would trigger war is not directed at China," Roque said. "China has already recognized that we have sovereign rights over the area."

Roque added the Duterte is firm in his stance that countries that seek to conduct research in Benham Rise would first need to secure the approval of the Philippine government through the National Security Adviser.

On January 19, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said China was allowed to conduct research in the area. This drew criticism since China has a pending maritime dispute with the Philippines over areas in the South China Sea. The President then ordered to cancel all pending research activities in Benham Rise.

Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said on February 13 that China successfully named four undersea mountains and a hill in the area in 2014. The International Hydrographic Organization approved the names in 2016 and 2017.

However, Malacañang said on February 14 it will not recognize the Chinese names. The DFA said on Tuesday they would contest the names through the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism with China.