• Duterte Calls Military to Assert Claim on Benham Rise

Duterte Calls Military to Assert Claim on Benham Rise (Photo : Getty Images)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte commanded the military to assert the country’s claim on Benham Rise, a large ocean region off the country's northeastern coast. Last year, Philippine defense officials were alarmed as Chinese survey ships were seen in the region.

Duterte ordered the military to claim ownership of the Benham Rise in an affable manner. He reiterated that diplomacy is the only option his country has in dealing territorial disputes with China.

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"My order to my military, you go there and tell them straight that this is ours, but I say it in friendship," Duterte said in a news conference.

"I cannot match the might of China," he added.

China-PH ties had been weak due to a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, west of the Philippines. Tensions have lightened up significantly with Duterte’s efforts to reach out to China. He has set aside the dispute in order to seek for the two countries to have economic cooperation.

According to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Chinese survey ships were spotted by the Philippine military in the Benham Rise region from July to December of the previous year.

The government is looking into increasing the patrols and the building of territorial markers in the offshore region, said Lorenzana.

The presence of Chinese survey ships in the area was to be tackled at a meeting of the National Security Council executive members and Duterte, as scheduled on Monday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has asked for China’s explanation for the presence of its survey ships in Benham Rise. The request was made through the Chinese embassy on Friday.

Benham Rise was proclaimed a part of the Philippine continental shelf by the U.N. Commission on the Limits in 2012. The declaration has given the Philippines exclusive rights to fish and exploit resources, including undersea deposits of oil and gas.

Chinese ships have a right to pass through the area under international law, according to Chinese foreign ministry.

The Chinese foreign ministry has said its ships have a right to pass through the area under international law.

To avoid offending China, Duterte has abandoned the plans for joint Philippine patrols with the U.S. Navy in disputed waters. The president has openly criticized U.S. security policies since the beginning of his term in June 2016.

The USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, has been in the region to ensure freedom of navigation in the sea, claimed virtually in its entirety by China.

“America wants to pick a fight there. Why would I get into a trouble in that area?" Duterte said.

With Chinese survey ships crossing the Benham Rise, the Filipino people are hoping that Rodrigo Duterte will live up to his “man-with-iron-fist” image and defend the country’s territory.