THE Philippine flag was flown over the Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise, as part of the 119th Independence Day celebration Monday.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Robispierre Bolivar confirmed the symbolic affirmation of the country’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the vast underwater ridge 250 kilometers east of Dinapigue, Isabela.
The United Nations approved the Philippines’ undisputed territorial claim over the rise in 2012.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the fiberglass-encased flag was planted on the underwater plateau by divers at a depth of 57 meters.
President Rodrigo Duterte renamed the underwater region from Benham Rise to Philippine Rise last month following sightings of a Chinese survey ship in the territory.
China had denied that the ship was surveying the Philippine Rise.
In Manila, Vice President Leni Robredo led the Independence Day celebrations after President Duterte skipped the ceremonies because he was “too tired” from staying up late, the Palace said.
“You know the President has been working 24-7, meeting the troops, meeting the commanders, and then late last night, visiting the wounded and [the families of soldiers who were killed in the fighting in Marawi City]. So that’s why this morning, he didn’t feel that well,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President also had important matters to attend to, including the situation in Mindanao.
In his first Independence Day message, Duterte called on his countrymen to help preserve Philippine sovereignty as a way to honor the country’s heroes.
“Let us pay homage to their heroism by preserving our sovereignty and performing our own civic rights and responsibilities,” Duterte said.
“The journey to freedom was a long and arduous one—which our countrymen paid for with blood, sweat, and the ultimate act of selfless sacrifice,” he added.
Robredo stressed that the nation should not forget the country’s present and past heroes.
“We hope we would not forget the heroism of countrymen, especially our soldiers who are fighting now in Marawi,” the vice president said.
“The lessons from people before us, we hope we would not forget them. We always pray that they would be protected,” Robredo added.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said the judiciary remains committed to defending the freedoms that the nation’s heroes fought for.
Sereno also paid tribute to “those who have fought for and continue to fight for our country’s freedom and sovereignty” and also to the country’s “fallen heroes present and past, all of who sacrificed lives and wealth, safety and comfort.”
“The Judiciary pays homage to all Filipino heroes; draws inspiration from them; reflects with sorrow on the fallen in Marawi; and renews its commitment to the people to defend their freedoms,” said Sereno, who begged off the invitation to raise the flag at the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan for Independence Day to prepare for the oral arguments on petitions against President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law proclamation.
Also on Monday, three replicas of ancient balangay (wooden boat) carrying the Philippine flag sailed Manila Bay as part of the Independence Day celebration.
The voyage called “Layag ng mga Balangay para sa Kalayaan” started from Pier 13 past 9 a.m. going to the Manila Yacht Club and back at Pier 13 at 11 a.m. The boats sailed again in the afternoon from Pier 13 going to the SM Mall of Asia.