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‘No need to inform DFA on Benham’

MALACA ÑANG on Friday said it was unnecessary and redundant for the Department of Foreign Affairs to be advised of China’s maritime movements in Benham Rise, stressing  that there was no need to inform the DFA about it as President Rodrigo Duterte had already known about China’s plan earlier to pass through the region.

In a television interview, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said he was not aware of whether or not the Chinese government had contacted the DFA.

However, he said it did not matter because the President was already aware of China’s maritime movements in Benham Rise.

“Regardless of whether [DFA officials] were informed or not, if the President knew about it or the Chinese government asked the permission of the President, you do not need to inform its alter-ego,” said Panelo.

Panelo said that he received an assurance from the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines himself that China would not act without permission.

“I was talking to the Chinese ambassador earlier, and he said, ‘We would never do that’,” Panelo said.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo

The Malacañang official said that the presence of Chinese vessels in Benham Rise did not violate the Philippine Constitution.

“If it’s an innocent passing-through, how can that be a violation of the Constitution?” Panelo said.

Earlier, Duterte  admitted that he had entered into an agreement with China, allowing China to pass through the region.

In March, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed that a Chinese service ship had been seen on an apparent three-month survey mission within the resource-rich 13-million hectare region of Benham Rise just off the northeastern coast of Luzon.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines has full territorial claim to Benham Rise since 2012.

China, however, downplayed the alleged incursion in Banham Rise.

Lorenzana subsequently ordered an increase of military presence in the region despite China’s claim of “innocent passage.”

Malacañang on Thursday also clarified that Duterte’s comments about Chinese activities in Benham Rise did not contradict pronouncements by the DFA and the Department of National Defense on the issue.

‘‘It was not in disagreement, but they were simply referring to separate things,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

‘‘There was no exclusion, there was no conflict, it was just a question of referring to separate matters at the same time… they were both apprised. They were simply referring to different situations,” he added.

In a press conference last Monday, Duterte said he had an agreement with China allowing research activities on Benham Rise.     

After initially showing confusion about the issue, Duterte said that there was no intrusion on the part of the Chinese survey ships monitored in Benham Rise last year because he invited them to visit Philippine shores anyway.

Lorenzana said he was surprised when informed about Duterte’s comments, but did not comment on the issue.

Lorenzana had earlier revealed that a Chinese ship was conducting survey activities in the area, expressing concern about the development.

Topics: Salvador Panelo , Department of Foreign Affairs , China , Benham Rise , President Rodrigo Duterte
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