No bad faith on part of China in naming PH Rise features – Roque

BENHAM RISE. Researchers ride boats across the waters in the Benham Rise area. File photo by Dr Gil Jacinto/UP-MSI

BENHAM RISE. Researchers ride boats across the waters in the Benham Rise area.

File photo by Dr Gil Jacinto/UP-MSI

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines continues to trust China even after its successful bid to name undersea features in Philippine Rise (Benham Rise), Malacañang said on Thursday, February 15.

"We are not attributing any bad faith to China," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace news briefing when asked about the Chinese names for undersea features in Philippine Rise approved by an international organization.

He said diplomatic ties between the Philippines and China remain intact.

"It (ties) won't be affected because there is no controversy in the Philippine Rise," said Roque.

That said, the Philippines will still give its own names to the 5 features China has named, through a successful application to an international scientific body.

Malacañang hopes China will "understand" that the Philippines will not recognize those names.

"We are just saying, respect us too, that we will give Philippine names to them," said Roque.

He pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte replaced the name "Benham Rise" given to the 13-million-hectare continental shelf by Americans, with Philippine Rise.

"Even the name given by the Americans, we did not recognize it. If we don't recognize the Chinese names, we are just being consistent," said Roque.

Naming, not claiming

President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman also maintained that China continues to recognize the Philippines' sovereign rights over Philippine Rise.

"China recognizes that they don't have any right to Benham Rise and they recognize our sovereign rights over Benham Rise," said Roque.

The process of naming a geological feature is "scientific" and not political, given that, generally, the one who discovers it usually gets to name it.

"Naming doesn't mean they are claiming," said Roque.

Asked when the Philippines would come up with its own names for the undersea features, the spokesman said there have been at least lighthearted discussions about it in Malacañang.

"Kanina nga sa pagpupulong eh ang suggestion mga pangalan na lang namin ang gamitin. Gusto ko 'yan. Island na Herminio, submerged feature na Herminio," he said.

(Earlier, in a meeting, there was a suggestion to just use our names. I like that. The Island of Herminio, the submerged feature Herminio.)

In late January, a group of Chinese scientists was allowed by the Philippines to conduct studies in Benham Rise. After intense scrutiny by the public over it, Duterte declared the revocation of all licenses given to foreign entities to conduct studies in the continental shelf. However, he made the declaration after the Chinese had already finished the study and left Benham Rise.

In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Contintental Shelf (UNCLCS) confirmed Philippine Rise as part of the Philippines' continental shelf. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the continental shelf comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas 200 nautical miles (NM), or 370 kilometers, from a state's baselines or “edges. 

Environmental groups have urged the government to at least declare for now Benham Bank, the shallowest part of Philippine Rise, as a "no-take zone" to give it immediate legal protection from human activity. (READ: Valentine message to Cimatu: Declare Benham Bank a 'no-take' zone) – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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