Gov't: Rules will be followed in Benham Rise exploration

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — Rules will be followed if and when a Chinese entity conducts research in Benham Rise, government officials said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Malacañang did not confirm or deny granting a Chinese think tank's request to study the waters off the eastern parts of Luzon, where Benham Rise is, and Mindanao – as alleged by opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano.

Alejano in a Facebook post on Friday said the project area includes 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.

WATCH: Things to know about Benham Rise

When asked about Alejano's statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said he will have to "check the details."

"But what I can assure Congressman Alejano and the Filipino people, we have the same rules for all the countries. We have to follow the law," he said.

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.

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.

"There's nothing suspicious about approval or disapproval of scientific research. Whether they are Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, Singaporeans, etc, if they comply they will [be approved] if they do not comply they will not [be approved]," Cayetano said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Saturday echoed Cayetano's statement, saying the government can allow other countries to explore Philippine waters if they meet the requirements.

"For as long as we consent, it will be legal," he said in a press briefing in Cebu City.

Alejano on Friday said the DFA granted permit to the Institute of Oceanology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and will be joined by the University of the Philippines - Marine Science Institute (UP-MIS).

He expressed concern the Philippines might not be given equal access to information as "China was only forced to collaborate with UP-MIS for the sake of getting the permit."

"All things considered, allowing a Chinese national think tank to conduct a so-called scientific research over Philippine waters, even with participation of Filipinos, is careless and absurd," he added.

The DFA earlier revealed that China applied for a permit twice to conduct research in Benham Rise since 2015, but these were all rejected as there were no Filipino scientists in the proposed exploration.