Manila, Philippines – Malacañang has denounced China’s move to rename five undersea features in the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) and has protested through the Philippine Embassy in Beijing.
“We object and do not recognize the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said in a statement on Wednesday, a day after Jay Batongbacal, a maritime law expert, was quoted in a report as saying that the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) approved five names China proposed in 2017.
The communist state claimed that these undersea features were “discovered by the Li Shiguang Hao ship of the China Navy Hydrographic Office in a survey in 2004.
Roque added that the Philippines was also considering a recommendation to notify the International Hydrographic Organization-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (IHO-IOC GEBCO) Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN).
China’s proposals to rename some undersea features in the Philippines were submitted to SCUFN during its meetings in Brazil on October 12 to 16, 2015 and September 19 to 23, 2017,” Roque said.
Batongbacal said that three names were submitted for consideration by the IHO in 2014 while the China Ocean Minerals R and D Association submitted two in 2016.
Batongbacal said the features were within 200 nautical miles of the east coast of Luzon, which means that these were within the “legal” continental shelf of the Philippines and that no claim process was needed.
Roque said on Monday that the Philippine government would not do anything to prevent China’s military build-up in the seven reefs being claimed by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
Roque said all the government could do for now was to monitor and rely on China’s “principle of good faith.”
Roque announced last week that President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered all existing marine explorations at the Benham Rise to stop to give way to local researchers.
However, the halt in foreign research activities does not mean a ban, Roque said.
PH to name features, too
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana now plans to name underwater features of the Philippine Rise, following China’s move.
In a text message to reporters on Wednesday, Lorenzana said he would discuss the recent actions of Beijing with National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and other Cabinet members.
“I will be talking about it with NSA (Esperon) and other Cabinet members. As for me, I would also give these features Philippine names,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana noted that the Spratly Islands features have Chinese, Vietnamese and Philippine names.
In March last year, Lorenzana disclosed that Chinese vessels were spotted within the Philippine Rise, with the Chinese government explaining that it was only an “innocent passage.”
In June, when the military’s Northern Luzon Command planted a flag undersea for the commemoration of Independence Day, a Chinese vessel was spotted anew. According to the Philippine Navy, it was, again, an act of innocent passage.
Lawmakers said the Philippine government needed to respond immediately to China’s move to name several undersea features in Philippine Rise.
Senators Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito and Antonio Trillanes 4th said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)
should file a diplomatic protest to let Beijing know that the Philippines did not agree with its actions.
Ejercito, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said the DFA should exhaust all diplomatic and legal means to protect the country’s sovereignty and territory.
“It is our sworn duty to fight and protect for our sovereignty and protect our territorial integrity. What China has been doing is they are already bullying the Philippine government,” Ejercito told reporters in an interview.
Trillanes decried China’s “abusive actions.”
“They (China) should not abuse it to the point that they are raping our country,” he said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian insisted that the United Nations had declared the Philippine Rise as part of the Philippines’ extended continental shelf, which means China and other countries are not allowed to exploit or explore the area.
“That’s very clear we have sovereign rights in that area and we can exploit and explore that area,” he noted.