By Roy Mabasa
The Philippine government is poised to formally challenge the names given by China for five features in the Philippine Rise region.
This was revealed by Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella in a press briefing Wednesday at the Department of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Pasay City after the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) hydrography branch asked the DFA to request the International Hydrographic Organization to nullify its earlier decision to accept the names proposed by China for five features in the Philippine Rise.
The names given by China to these features 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.
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.
Dr. Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (IMLOS) earlier 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.
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.
During the Senate science and technology committee hearing earlier this week, NAMRIA assistant director Captain Herbert Catapang argued that they are seeking the nullification of the Chinese names for underwater features in the Philippine Rise since the IHO did not follow the rules of procedure.
Catapang pointed out that the manner by which China collected the data it submitted violates UNCLOS because the Philippine government did not allow China to undertake surveys in 2004.
Undersecretary Abella said the government already raised the unauthorized research conducted by the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the Philippine Rise during bilateral consultations held last February 13 in Manila.
During the said bilateral consultations, he said both parties reached an agreement that henceforth all marine science research must have the consent of the Philippines.
“When we raised our concern, they were quite willing to proceed upon agreed terms henceforth,” said Abella.
In 2012, the United Nations designated the Philippine Rise as within the jurisdiction of the Philippines.