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Nothing to worry about? UP’s Jay Batongbacal says Duterte has no ‘blanket’ deal with China on Benham Rise

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Contrary to reports, President Rodrigo Duterte does not have a “blanket” agreement with China for exploring the country’s territories, including Benham Rise.

This was the clarification made by University of the Philippines law professor Jay Batongbacal amid speculation that Duterte may be impeached for supposedly allowing China to explore Benham Rise, over which the country has sovereign rights.

Citing sources, Batongbacal said what Duterte meant when he said he had an agreement with China allowing research activities on Benham Rise was a deal to allow the transit of Chinese vessels through Philippine territorial waters on the way to the Pacific Ocean.

“It is the same kind of permission that China has always asked of the Philippines in previous exploratory missions, and is the prior communication between the ministries that China refers to in its official statement on the issue,” Batongbacal, the director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, explained.

He added that the monitored or reported behavior of the Chinese survey vessel did not take place in Benham Ride itself “but in its vicinity and outside of the boundaries of both the EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and continental shelf.”

“At best, there was transit over the plateau, but most of the actual activities that raise concern took place beyond it in the high seas,” Batongbacal said.

He said the only time the Chinese vessel entered the EEZ was when it went adrift and dropped off a crew member in Surigao, an anecdote which corroborated the statement of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana about the foreign ship appearing to have suffered an accident.