MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo said on Thursday, March 30, that President Rodrigo Duterte did not "allow" China to visit Benham Rise, and issued only a general invitation for other countries to "visit the Philippines."
Asked whether Duterte allowed China to visit Benham Rise, Manalo said on ANC's Headstart: "I'm not aware of it. He didn't allow them to visit, because as I said, it has to go through the motions."
Manalo was referring to requirements such as filing a request before an interagency committee, and having a Filipino scientist onboard when China surveys Benham Rise.
Manalo also said China, in fact, has "two or 3" pending requests to survey Benham Rise, after previous requests had been denied.
ANC anchor Karen Davila then asked Manalo if China can "just call" Duterte to ask permission to visit Benham Rise, and if Duterte can just say, "Yes, you can."
Manalo replied, "I don't think China would do that because they know the rules."
On Duterte's previous statement that he allowed China to survey Benham Rise, Manalo said: "Well, that's another story. I think that was taken out of context."
'Duterte not referring to Benham Rise'
Manalo said that Duterte "wasn't referring actually to Benham Rise," but to his general invitation that "if it's a friendly visit, you're welcome to visit the Philippines."
"He wasn't referring to Benham Rise. He was referring to, for example, let's say Russia sent a ship here. 'You're welcome to visit us as long as it's friendly or in accordance with Philippine laws.' It wasn't in connection with the Benham Rise issue," Manalo said.
This comes after Duterte, on March 13, said he had allowed Chinese surveillance ships into Filipino waters surrounding Benham Rise. (READ: Panelo: No need to inform DFA of Benham Rise deal)
"They have no incursion because we have an agreement," Duterte had told reporters when asked about the reported presence of Chinese surveillance ships near Benham Rise.
"Some people are just blowing it up. We previously agreed. It was a research ship. We were advised of it way ahead," Duterte said then.
On Wednesday, March 29, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr also said Duterte made a "general invitation" for foreign ships "to come in." Esperon said, however, that "we have our specific processes for this."
Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare underwater plateau, the rights over which the Philippines won before a United Nations commission in April 2012. It is potentially a rich source of natural gas and other resources such as heavy metals. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.