Esperon says Duterte gave China permission to conduct research in Benham Rise

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said that President Rodrigo Duterte gave China and other neighboring countries a “general invitation” to “come in,” hence the Chinese ships spotted in Benham Rise did not breach protocol.

“The tone of our joint statement from China is that the President has indeed invited foreign ships to come in; even make a call on our ports. That will include research,” Esperon said at a Senate hearing.
“So there’s a general invitation for that, but we have our specific processes for this. Indeed there have been no permits given but in the future, as suggested, we really should go into joint research,” he added.

The March 29 hearing was about the proposed Benham Rise Development Authority that focused on the supposed research conducted by Chinese ships in Benham Rise from November 2016 to January 2017. The problem is that the research was conducted without permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of National Defense.

Esperon, however, added that despite Duterte’s “invitation,” foreign ships should still observe protocols.

“Our relations with neighbors have warmed up. There is the general invitation extended to neighboring countries but there are still protocols to follow. We have a way of going into particulars. The research ships must file permission with the DFA, but that is already a general invitation,” he said.

However, Duterte did not specially talk about an invitation to China or other foreign countries to enter Philippine waters during his joint statement with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the conclusion of his October 2016 state visit to China.

The DFA has no knowledge about any of these issues involving China and Benham Rise.
Esperon reasoned out in the same way Chief Presidential Counsel Salvador Panelo defended Duterte – as the President and chief architect of foreign policy, he does not need to inform the DFA about his agreement with China over Benham Rise.

“The DFA and DND are departments under the President. Are you telling me everything the President does, he has to inform the department?” Esperon asked.

China has responded to DFA’s note verbale asking them for clarification about the Chinese ships in Benham Rise by saying that they were simply exercising their right to freedom of navigation.

Esperon also urged everyone not to worry about the Chinese ships in the territory ordered by UNCLOS as a part of the Philippines’ continental shelf. He added that there is nothing harmful to having research ships in the area and that the Philippines “should be joining them.”

China was revealed to have requested to conduct marine scientific research in Benham Rise in 2015 and 2016, but were denied by the DFA, although they cannot confirm whether the Chinese ships spotted in Benham Rise were the same ones that made the first two requests.

GMA News Online noted that the DFA is often responsible for screening applications for research requests in Benham Rise and for coordinating with technical agencies, depending on the research.

However, Esperon insisted that Duterte also has DFA’s similar power.

“From my point of view, I’d like to say that the exercise of giving permits can also be exercised by the President whether it’s done verbally or not,” Esperon said.

Sources: ( , , )

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