A CHINESE ship conducted the first “illegal” research in Benham Rise, also known as Philippine Rise, in 2004, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said Monday.
Speaking during the Senate science and technology hearing on the Philippine Rise, Esperon said the government failed to know what the Chinese were researching at the time because of the lack of capabilities.
Esperon said the unauthorized 2004 research was even used by China to support its request to officially name five underwater features in the Philippine Rise.
“For one, they conducted marine scientific research in 2004. It did not go through the process, they had no permits,” Esperon said.
The research was done during the time of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
While he was concerned with this development, Esperon said they did not have sufficient capabilities to address it.
“If we look at the resources that we had, we have sufficient but limited capabilities. The Northern Luzon Command is also like that,” Esperon said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of naval staff Rear Adm. Erick Kagaoan said the Philippine Navy has monitored foreign ships with no diplomatic clearance, but did not divulge the countries. He also said that they have monitored unauthorized ships that were anchored while in Philippine waters.
In 2017, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana aired his concern after a Chinese survey ship was spotted crisscrossing the underwater plateau for a period of up to three months.
Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said it was found that the ship was surveying, not Benham Rise, but the east of Surigao province, which he said was worse because it was closer to the Philippine coast.
“After some digging, we found out they did not do research, but that’s the good news. But they did research on Philippine EEZ, east of Sigurao. It’s worse, it’s even closer,” said Batongbacal.
Esperon also acknowledged this was done without permit. He said there was, this time, a research ship.
“I remember the controversy over that around April last year, that’s why we named the area Philippine Rise, because we got angry,” he said.
Aside from that, Esperon said there have been ships spotted, which initially looked like they are just exercising their freedom of navigation.
The ship stayed in the region starting November 2016, after President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China, and left in January.
In January 2018, the Philippine government allowed a Chinese ship to survey the eastern seaboard, including Philippine Rise.
Batongbacal cited three violations of the Chinese government in this case.
“First, the permit states that there would be a team from the Philippines to join the study,” he said.
It was revealed in the hearing that there were only Philippine representatives onboard in three out of six days of the survey inside the country’s exclusive economic zone. There were also problems with the availability of experts from the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute.
Second, Batongbacal said the Chinese vessel came earlier than indicated in the permit. Lastly, he said the ship supposedly turned off its Automatic Identification System, which serves as a tracker.
“Based on the track of the vessel they came earlier than indicated, so they did the research earlier than what they said,” he said.