MANILA, March 13 Philippine President Rodrigo
Duterte has ordered the navy to put up "structures" to assert
sovereignty over a stretch of water east of the country where
Manila has reported a Chinese survey ship was casing the area
The Philippines has lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing
after the vessel was tracked moving back and forth over Benham
Rise, a vast area east of the country declared by the United
Nations in 2012 as part of the Philippines' continental shelf.
According to the Philippines, Benham Rise is rich in
biodiversity and fish stocks.
China's foreign ministry on Friday said the ship was engaged
in "normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage",
and nothing more.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Duterte's
instruction was to increase naval patrols in that area and put
up structures "that says this is ours". He did not specify what
structures would be erected.
"We are concerned, they have no business going there,"
Lorenzana told reporters late on Sunday.
Though he accepts China's explanation, Lorenzana said it was
clear that its vessel was not passing through the area because
it stopped multiple times, for sustained periods.
Lorenzana last week said he was suspicious of China's
activities near Benham Rise and suggested they might be part of
surveys to test water depths for submarine routes to the
The issue was due to be discussed further at a national
security council meeting on Monday evening, he said.
The issue risks disturbing ties with China at a time of rare
cordiality between the two countries under Duterte, who has
chosen to tap Beijing for business rather than confront it over
its maritime activities and intentions in disputed waters.
Rows with China have usually been about the South China Sea,
west of the Philippines, a conduit for about $5 trillion of
shipped goods annually. China lays claim to almost the entire
South China Sea.
While Duterte has been sanguine about ties with China,
Lorenzana is more wary and has noted that Beijing's
fortification of manmade islands inside the Philippines' 200
nautical mile exclusive economic zone has not abated.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty & Simon