By Priam Nepomuceno

Philippine Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad (PNA file photo by Priam F. Nepomuceno)

MANILA – The two Chinese research vessels earlier spotted in Philippine Rise (formerly known as Benham Rise) are now out of Philippine territory, a ranking naval official said Monday.

“Malayo na, labas na ng ating EEZ (They are now far, out of our exclusive economic zone). Nasa mga 800 miles na (They are 800 nautical miles away) as of yesterday [Sunday] morning,” Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said in a radio interview.

The vessels did not stay long in Philippine territory and just passed through the country’s EEZ and Benham Rise.

Their general direction is “southeast of the Pacific Ocean” and have a speed of between eight to 10 knots only, depending on weather conditions, according to Trinidad.

“They have the freedom of navigation when it comes to the EEZ of coastal states so pwede siyang dumaan (they can pass),” Trinidad said when asked if the passage of the Chinese vessels were permissible.

The research vessels did not commit violations while in Philippine waters, Trinidad stressed.

Earlier reports claimed that the two ships left Guangzhou City on Feb. 26 and were seen in the northeast portion of the Philippine Rise.

The Philippine Rise comprises a 200-nautical mile continental shelf from the baselines of Luzon, extending 118 nautical miles beyond the legal continental shelf limits.

On May 16, 2017, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Executive Order (EO) No. 25 changing the name of the Benham Rise, to Philippine Rise.

The EO said the region “is subject to sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines pursuant to relevant provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, national legislation, and the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and applicable international law.”

In 2012, the United Nations, through recommendations of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, approved the claim that the Philippine Rise is within the country’s EEZ.

The Philippines first sought recognition for its claims to the maritime area on April 8, 2009. (PNA)