Hands off Benham Rise! – fisherfolk to China and other foreign vessels

Hands off Benham Rise! – fisherfolk to China and other foreign vessels

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Benham Rise, located at the Eastern part of the country, opposite to the disputed South China Sea | photo by Rappler

Manila, Philippines – The militant fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) on Wednesday scolded China for its attempt to occupy the Benham Rise, following its assertion that the Philippines cannot own the 13-million hectare resource-rich water despite the United Nations (U.N.) ruling on 2012.

A defense official last week has reported the presence of a Chinese vessel in Benham Rise, of which Beijing has immediately reacted saying it was just an “innocent passage”.

Benham Rise is located opposite to the disputed waters of South China Sea that has abundant marine resources particularly first-class tuna and untapped minerals and gas deposits.

In a statement, PAMALAKAYA said whatever China is planning in our territory, they must drop it off because like the West Philippine Sea which they have been posing their irrational claim, we will again prove that Benham Rise is politically and legally belongs to our country, not to any foreign nations.

They have been claiming and even built artificial islands in the Western part of our exclusive economic territory, they should abort whatever their goal is in our eastern part of the sea. Like the West Philippine Sea, Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino people, it is part of our exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf as ruled by the international law,” Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA Chairperson said in a statement.

Benham Rise infested with foreign poachers ever since

The fisherfolk group meanwhile raises doubt on Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana on why has he only making a fuss on the recent Chinese presence in Benham Rise when in fact, the tuna-rich fishing ground has been infested with foreign poachers for years now, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Local fishermen from Aurora and Isabela have been seeing large-scale foreign fishing fleets in Benham Rise during then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III, but it seems that past and present administrations have been tolerating the foreign-fishing expeditions in our waters.

The presence of foreign vessels in Benham Rise is nothing new. We have monitored at least eight Japanese-owned tuna-fishing vessels regularly poaching in the waters of Aurora province during the Aquino administration. But we haven’t heard any outcry nor condemnation from any government officials, even the Philippine Coast Guard stationed in the area is not doing anything to prevent those foreign ocean grabbers from exploiting our marine resources,” Hicap said.

PAMALAKAYA said Lorenzana should not make a double-standard in terms of defending our sovereignty against foreign explorations. Lorenzana should also expose and condemn all the foreign-owned commercial fishing fleets that persistently exploit our waters and marine resources at the expense of the Filipino fisherfolk’s livelihood and their right to their fishing waters.

We urge the Duterte administration that if they are sincere in protecting our sovereignty over another incursion attempt, they should enforce strict rules in preventing any foreign vessels to enter, in whatever purpose, the Benham Rise and all our exclusive economic zones,” Hicap ended. ###

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