Duterte drops visit to Philippine Rise

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 15) — President Rodrigo Duterte did not visit Philippine Rise as planned, and instead just sent local scientists off from a ship to do research in the underwater plateau.

Aboard the BRP Davao Del Sur on Tuesday, Duterte led the sendoff for the 50 scientists. The ship was supposed to sail for about two to three hours to Benham Bank, but remained anchored in Casiguran Bay in Aurora province.

In April, Duterte said he would visit the area to assert the country's rights over what has been declared as the country's extended continental shelf of which it has sovereign rights.

"Next week... I'm going to Benham Rise and I will make a statement there that nobody owns this place (except the Philippines)," Duterte said in an April 26 speech, adding that he would "go to war" if any other country claimed it.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who earlier announced Duterte was going to the Philippine Rise, said it is not feasible to visit the area.

"Let me explain na ang Philippine Rise po is the continental shelf po under the water, so hindi mo siya physically mabibisita...so mapupuntahan mo lang yung tubig na nasa ibabaw," he said.

Roque added the President was only there to send the scientist off.

"Itong barko na ito ay papunta roon. Dun po talaga papunta ang mga dalubhasa natin, pero ang Presidente ay naririto para i-sendoff ang ating mga scientist at tingin nasabi na nya ang mensahe nya sa buong daigdig." he said.

Philippine Rise is an undersea plateau covering 13 million hectares some 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province. The United Nations has recognized it as part of the country's extended continental shelf over which the Philippines has sovereign rights.

The government was criticized for allowing China to do research in waters off the northeastern part of the country, including Philippine Rise, in partnership with the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute. But China later said the research was done "in waters under the Philippines' jurisdiction, but not in the Benham Rise."

The region lies east of the country. Malacañang in February said foreigners may do research in the country as long as they get approval from the National Security Adviser and it is done with Filipinos.

While the country calls it Philippine Rise, the international community recognizes it as Benham Rise, named after U.S. geologist Andrew Benham who discovered it in 1933. It is believed to be rich in marine resources, natural gas, oil, and minerals. Last year, China named some undersea features of Benham Rise which were recognized  by the International Hydrographic Organization, prompting Duterte to issue an executive order renaming it to Philippine Rise.

Baste Duterte, Bong Go ride jet skis

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher "Bong" Go and presidential son Sebastian "Baste" Duterte rode jet skis on Casiguran Bay.

Go earlier said President Duterte's plan to ride a jet ski did not push through.

"PRRD di matuloy jet ski, instead, si Baste ang mag-represent and SAP," Go said.

Roque earlier said the trip would commemorate the renaming of Benham Rise to Philippine Rise through an executive order signed on May 16 last year.

The order was issued after Chinese survey ships were spotted in the area two months earlier.

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong and Ver Marcelo contributed to this report.