Solon suggests tapping US to help secure Benham Rise

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Rep. Ruffy Biazon, vice chairman of the House of Representatives' Defense Committee, is eyeing a bill that seeks to secure Benham Rise.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — One congressman has a suggestion for the presence of Chinese survey ships in Benham Rise.

"We can tap our allies to help us in the defense," Rep. Ruffy Biazon, vice chairman of the House of Representatives' Defense Committee, told CNN Philippines' The Source on Wednesday.

"The obvious answer is the only naval power outside-the United States," he said.

Benham Rise, an underwater plateau believed to be rich natural resources, lies 217 kilometers east of Aurora province. In 2012, the United Nations ruled that the country has sovereign rights over this area.

Chinese survey ships were spotted on Benham Rise last year, sparking possible tension despite warmer diplomatic relations with the eastern giant.

Under President Rodrigo Duterte's term, foreign policy has shifted away from the United States, a long-time ally. It has also exercised a friendlier approach to China, with whom the Philippines had tension over disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Biazon noted that another option is to take this concern to the United Nations, but that would "undergo a lot of process."

"For now my personal opinion is, we should really start focusing on securing Benham Rise," said Biazon.

Bill on ‘strategic security plan’

Biazon said he is drafting a bill with "specific recommendations for a strategic security plan" for the underwater plateau.

"What I'm thinking of now is a bill that would set the policy of developing a security strategy for Benham Rise, appropriating funds to give life to the security plan," Biazon explained.

Biazon said the country must "show that we are intending to exploit resources that are rightfully ours."

"We have to develop the capability to... patrol the area, the capability to intercept those who venture illegally into the area, and have a sustained surveillance of the area," he said.

He noted there was a coast watch system on the disputed territory to the west, but this had yet to be established in Benham Rise.

"It's a series of surveillance radars, equipment to monitor the West Philippine Sea," Biazon said. "On the other side, as far as I know, we're lacking (that)."

House inquiry

Biazon filed on Tuesday a resolution to open an inquiry on the issue. He said this aims to find out the reason for the Chinese presence in the area, and the government's plans on the matter.

"As far as Congress is concerned, we are not aware of any strategic plans," said Biazon.

Congress is on recess next week and will resume session in the first week of May.

"Hopefully [the resolution] gets referred to the committee, and the committee will give priority to it," said Biazon.

‘Creeping invasion’

The congressman said he is cautious of China, believing its vessels on Benham Rise are part of a "creeping invasion" of the region.

"I'd be open about (tapping U.S.), because I'm wary of China," said Biazon. "They have shown behavior which shows they wouldn't blink at an opportunity to extend their reach, their power, their influence... that's what I think they are doing."

China claimed it is only exercising its right of "innocent passage."

Biazon said there was "reason to doubt" this claim, as passage entails crossing the ocean to get from one point to another.

"(Defense) Sec. (Delfin) Lorenzana... said that the observation was it was moving in a criss-crossing pattern, slowing down, moving from one place to another, for a period of three months," Biazon recalled. "That does not fit into the definition of what innocent passage is."

Lorenzana noted that China could be looking for a potential area to place their submarines.

Biazon believes that if the international community "gets used" to China's presence in the area, it is "already a step forward" to expanding their territory.

"What they put up in the West Philippine Sea is already a forward base. From there, they can launch the patrols," said Biazon. "Tatawid lang... sa kabila [They'll just cross to the other side]."

"To me, it's a creeping invasion into areas where we have rights," he added. "I don't think their intentions are that innocent... That should be the mindset of national security."