February 21, 2018, 2:02 am
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Manila protests Chinese names for PH Rise seamounts

BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR AND JP LOPEZ

THE Philippines has objected to China’s reported naming of five undersea features in the Philippine Rise (formerly Benham Rise), and is looking at raising its concerns before an international ocean mapping body, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.

Roque said the Philippine embassy in Beijing has raised its concerns with the Chinese government.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, initially posted on Facebook that China has name five seamounts in the Philippine Rise, which the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) approved in 2017.

Roque said government is looking at raising the Philippines’ opposition before with the IHO- Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (IOC GEBCO) Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN).

“We object and do not recognize the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise. Per our Philippine embassy in Beijing, they have already raised our concern to China,” he said.

He added that the Philippines is not a part of the SCUFN.

Roque said China had proposed to rename some undersea features in the Philippine Rise to the SCUFN during its meetings in Brazil on Oct. 12-16, 2015 and on Sept 19-23, 2017.

Batongbacal said China named the seamounts Jinghao and Tianbao, located some 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan; Haidonquing, which is found east at 190 nautical miles; and Cuiqiao Hill and Jujiu that form the central peaks of the Philippine Rise undersea geological province.

He said China’s naming of the seamounts stemmed from the reported discovery of the features during a 2004 survey by the Li Shiguang Hao of the China Navy Hydrographic Office. The naming was only made by China in 2014 and 2016.

IHO-GEBCO consists of an international group of experts in ocean mapping. The SCUFN develops and makes available a digital gazetteer of the names, generic feature type and geographic position of features on the seafloor.

Early this month, President Duterte ordered the revocation of all licenses issued to foreign researchers at the Philippine Rise and “directed the Philippine Navy to chase out any vessel fishing or conducting research.”

The President, following a statement from a foreign diplomat that no county owns the Philippine Rise, directed that all future research and explorations by foreign groups will require the approval of the National Security Adviser.

Malacañang has said there have been 30 license applications from different foreign groups from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Germany since 2000, but close to half of them have been rejected.
 
BAD FAITH

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said government should “not be too accommodating” with Beijing which has time and again shown bad faith.

Lacson said it might just be a matter of time before Filipinos see Chinese structures on artificial islands in other areas near the Philippines.

He said China has been assertive on its “sovereign” rights in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) but “we have remained silent since 2014.”

He said the connotation of the Chinese names is that China would one day claim the territory, set up structures and create artificial islands, like what it did in the West Philippine Sea.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said: “Benham Rise is clearly Philippine territory and its features are not for China to name.”

Aquino said the Senate committee on science and technology, which he chairs, will conduct a public hearing on Feb. 26 to determine the next steps the government might take.

Sen. JV Ejercito said Beijing’s move shows its intent to take the territory as its own.

Ejercito pushed for the filing of a diplomatic protest, saying it is the Philippines’ “sworn duty” to fight for and protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“What China has been doing is they are already bullying the Philippine government. Of course, admittedly, they are a superpower. We cannot match them in terms of military might,” he said.

Ejercito said he had been “apprehensive” of government’s decision to allow parties from China to conduct research in the Benham Rise, saying it may have been a “mistake.”

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV warned that China might not only come up with its own map but might also claim the Philippine Rise if government would not act swiftly on this latest move.

The opposition senator said it is clear that China has been deceiving the country by asking for a permit to conduct research, and later give Chinese names to what they saw at Philippine Rise.

Despite the unabated construction by China in the West Philippine Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the situation in the disputed areas is far more stable than in the past years.

In statement a day after the 2nd Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea, Cayetano said the continued talks have already resulted in better conditions in the contested areas.

Proofs of this, he said, are several positive developments in the South China Sea, including Filipino fishermen gaining access within the areas in dispute and measures to protect the environment and marine ecosystem in the South China Sea. – With Gerard Naval
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