By Roy Mabasa
The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) approved this week the names proposed by China for five features in the Philippine Rise region (Benham Rise) after the Chinese government submitted to the organization its research findings on the area, the country’s foremost maritime expert has reported.
According to Dr. Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS), the names given by China were all in Chinese: Haidonquing Seamount, located 190 nautical miles east of Cagayan; Tianbao Seamount which is situated around 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan; Jinghao Seamount also located around 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan; Jujiu Seamount and Cuiqiao Hill and Cuiqiao Hill. The last two form the central peaks of the Benham Rise undersea geological province.
Batongbacal noted that all the five features are within 200 nautical miles of the east coast of Luzon, not in the region of the extended continental shelf but well within the “legal” continental shelf. This means that the features are within 200 nautical miles, where the coastal State’s rights are ipso facto and ab initio and do not need to undergo a claim process. This is unlike the “extended” continental shelf which must be validated by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
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. 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 Research and Development Association in 2016.
IHO is the inter-governmental organization representing hydrography. Its principal aim is to ensure that the world’s seas, oceans and navigable waters are properly surveyed and charted. It does this through the setting of international standards, the co-ordination of the endeavors of the world’s national hydrographic offices, and through its capacity building programme.
The IHO enjoys observer status at the United Nations where it is the recognized competent authority on hydrographic surveying and nautical charting. When referring to hydrography and nautical charting in Conventions and similar Instruments, it is the IHO standards and specifications that are normally used.
The IHO and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have rules wherein the entity that first discovers unnamed features underwater have the right to name those features.
It will be recalled that Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano approved the Chinese Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to perform a scientific survey of Benham Rise earlier this year with the consent of President Rodrigo Duterte. This arrangement was made public by Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano.
This was later confirmed by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque who also argued that the Philippine government has no capability to undertake a research of the Philippine Rise. Earlier this month, it was reported that President Duterte has ordered the halting of all foreign researches in the Rise. However, the research being conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences was already finished before the halt order was issued.