MANILA, Philippines — Why name something that isn’t yours in the first place?
Filipino politicians got bothered on Wednesday after learning from a maritime law expert that China had reportedly named at least five undersea features in Benham Rise, which is part of the Philippines’ extended continental shelf.
Liberal Party’s Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV objected to what the Asian giant allegedly did, saying, “Benham Rise is clearly Philippine territory and its features are not for China to name.”
“It is only right that the government counter any further moves to name features of our territory and propose remedies for the two formally named by China through the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO),” the lawmaker said.
“It is imperative that we protect our territory from any foreign interest,” Aquino added.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Dr. Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said that the IHO had approved in 2017 the names proposed by China.
On Wednesday, Malacañang thumbed down China’s reported move, with Harry Roque, the spokesperson of President Rodrigo Duterte saying that, “We object and do not recognize the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise.”
According to Batongbacal, it was last year that IHO “approved the names proposed by China.”
“Three of the features were reported to have been ‘discovered’ during a 2004 survey by the Li Shiguang Hao of the China Navy Hydrographic Office, which submitted the names for consideration by the IHO in 2014,” Batongbacal said in his FB post.
“Two features were also reported ‘discovered; by the same ship during the same survey, but the name proposals were submitted by the China Ocean Minerals R&D Association in 2016,” he added.
He said the features “successfully” named by China were Jinghao and Tianbao Seamounts located some 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan; the Haidonquing Seamount located east at 190 nautical miles; and the Cuiqiao Hill and Jujiu Seamount that form the central peaks of the Philippine Rise undersea geological province.
Like Aquino and the Palace, Sen. Panfilo Lacson also opposed what China allegedly did and said that there could be perceptions that the Asian giant could already lay claim to the territory, just like what it did in the West Philippine Sea, just because the country named some undersea features in Benham Rise.
Asked by reporters if the Philippines should file a diplomatic protest against China, Lacson said there is basis to do it because the Philippines has rights over Benham, which was recognized by the United Nations in 2012.
Lauro Baja Jr., former Philippine Permanent Representative to the U.N. agreed with Lacson. He said the country must, “in the regime of EEZ (exclusive economic zone), assert its rights.”
This was also the position of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV,who said that with this latest development, it was clear that China was already fooling the Philippines.
“Ito, maliwanag ito, ‘yong kanilang intention. Later on, malay n’yo gumagawa na sila ng mapa niyan…[Their intention is clear. Later on, they might already make a map],” said Trillanes.
Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito also saw the need for the Philippines to file a protest.
“That’s already a sign (that) they already want to infringe on our territory. Kumbaga meron talagang balak sila na kunin sa atin ‘to. Bakit nila papangalanan ng Chinese name ‘yon [It shows that they have plans to get it from us. If not, why would they name the undersea features in Chinese]?”