Duterte: PH owns Benham Rise

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 20) — Benham Rise belongs to the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte made this clear following reports that China has moved to name five features it discovered in the marine resource-rich body of water, which is located 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province and lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, where the country has sole right to its resources.

Read: China names five undersea features in Benham Rise

He, however, is not taking any offense at China's move. He appeared to even defend it.

"Eh, alangan namang gawin nilang German, ang alam lang nila Chinese eh," Duterte said at the 20th founding anniversary celebration of the Chinese Filipino Business Club Inc. Monday, where Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua was also present.

[Translation: Do you expect them to use German when all they know is Chinese?]

"Those are just directions na tapos na sila diyan. Of course, they do it in Chinese because it's their dialect. Alangan i-Tagalog mo 'yan?" he added.

[Translation: Those are just directions that they are finished there. Of course, they do it in Chinese because it's their dialect. Do you expect them to use Tagalog?]

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in press briefings last week that the Philippines will not recognize the Chinese names and will give its own names to the features.

Read: Gov't to give PH names to Benham Rise features named by China

"Bahala kayo kung ano binigay niyo diyan basta kami magtatalaga kami ng Pilipinong pangalan [You can name it whatever you want, we will assign a Philippine name]," Roque said on Thursday.

Duterte said he would insist on the country's rights over Benham Rise and also push for our claims in the West Philippine Sea.

"I would insist on the Philippine Rise because that is ours, period... In front of the Ambassador, I'd tell you, we will insist. But what would be the components of our demands and our insistence? Well, we can only be diplomatic. We can only be talking on friendly and civilized terms," he said.

But in insisting on our claims, the President stressed the need to maintain good relations with China.

He pointed out that China's military structures are not intended for the Philippines, which is even more reason for him not to cause tensions between the two nations.

"It's really intended against those who the Chinese think would destroy them and that is America. Wala tayong kasali diyan [We are not included in that]. Then why would I go there, bring my Navy, my soldiers, my police and everything only to be slaughtered? I will not commit the lives of the Filipinos only to die unnecessarily," he said.

President Duterte also said his decision to stop foreign-led research explorations in Benham Rise is only "for show."

"Let us make an agreement, it is only for show. No shots are fired. We can always talk," he said in his speech. "Like yours, you also sail there around the Scarborough, i never stopped you."

The President responded to claims that he is being too soft on China which has built structures and militarized in disputed areas.

As he called out the previous administration for practically letting China  build structures, he said Chinese President Xi Jinping promised him that they will not build anything on Scarborough shoal.

The President seemed so pleased by this assurance that he made a joke — why not make the Philippines a province of China?

"They assured us they will not build anything there sa Scarborough shoal. Maniwala kayo kasi 'yan ang commitment sa akin ng China. Si Xi Jinping mismo nagsabi and he's a man of honor... Kaya nga, sabi ko, 'Why are you so sparing?' Gusto ninyo, gawain ninyo nalang kaming province... Fujian pati Philippine province of China. 'Di wala na tayo problema. Libre na lahat."

[Translation: They assured us they will not build anything sa Scarborough Shoal. Believe me because that was the commitment of China to me. Xi Jinping himself said it and he's a man of honor...that's why I said, 'Why are you so sparing?' If you want make us a province...Fujian and Philippine province of China. So we don't have a problem anymore. Everything will be free.]