Manchurian agent

Geopolitical experts believe the presence of China in the Rise would multiply the perception of its threat as its plans for Taiwan increase.
Manchurian agent

China has technically invaded the country as its vessels sail at will inside and outside the West Philippine Sea (WPS), and the government can do little aside from publicizing it.

Aside from the WPS, the Benham Rise is another area that has a huge potential as a source of minerals and fuel. It lies in the Philippine Sea off Isabela.

Named after US Admiral Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham, the sea feature was declared part of the country’s extended continental shelf by the United Nations in April 2012.

In May 2017, the Duterte administration changed its name to Philippine Rise to further assert the country's "sovereign rights and jurisdiction" in the region.

But in January 2018, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano allowed China to undertake research activities in the area.

Cayetano invoked a law that allowed foreign vessels to do research in the country’s continental shelf “as long as there is a Filipino on board.”

His virtual free pass to China “and any other nation” to conduct studies and explorations in the Philippine Rise may have led to the current problem of Chinese survey ships being frequently spotted in the maritime feature.

Cayetano even boasted that other nations’ access to Philippine Rise “does not even require a policy decision.”

“[Permission is] a matter of course through the (Department of Foreign Affairs) assistant secretary level. It’s not a policy decision because there is already a law,” he asserted.

“It’s like (applying for) a license. If you have the requirements, go. If you don’t have it, no go,” he added.

That sly remark may have brought about the current complication of exclusively Chinese vessels “loitering,” as Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez termed it, in the Philippine Rise.

Romualdez declared the Philippine Rise an integral part of the nation’s territory, emphasizing that any unauthorized presence or activities by foreign vessels in the area undermine the country’s sovereign rights.

“The Philippines will not compromise its territorial integrity or allow any encroachment on its sovereign rights. The Philippine Rise is unquestionably within our EEZ, and we will assert our authority to safeguard our maritime domain,” Romualdez stressed.

Cayetano should have read the situation correctly then as the chief diplomat since China had already encroached on and even built structures within the WPS, and securing permission was never its concern.

Thus, Cayetano’s liberal treatment of the Chinese intrusion is now being held up by the Asian giant as an excuse to continue its illegal activities within the country’s borders.

Geopolitical experts believe the presence of China in the Rise would multiply the perception of its threat as its plans for Taiwan increase.

De La Salle University professor Renato de Castro, a defense analyst, surmised that the presence of the Chinese vessels may have something to do with preparations for an invasion of Taiwan.

“My concern is that they are investigating that area, not just for its resources but they are studying the Pacific side of Taiwan. If they enter Taiwan, most likely, the amphibious operation will happen there,” De Castro said.

Beijing is interested in the underwater terrain and could be mapping it out for its submarines.

The government is now moving double time to secure the Rise that Cayetano earlier declared an open access area.

The Philippine Coast Guard has deployed one of its biggest vessels, the BRP Gabriela Silang, to the northeast corner of the Rise, thus thinning the resources guarding against China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea.

Cayetano’s lackluster term as head of the Department of Foreign Affairs was highlighted by China’s capitulation in Benham Rise, the deals for which must be divulged to the public.

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