THE military had deployed hundreds of Marines troopers in the country’s northern frontier to secure and maintain the country’s sovereign rights over Philippine Rise, after China renamed four seamounts and a hill in the undersea plateau.
Battle-tested soldiers under the Marine Battalion Landing Team-8 landed at Port Irene in Cagayan Friday, with orders to protect Philippine Rise from foreign intruders.
Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, commander of the Northern Luzon Command, said the deployment of a Marine contingent in Cagayan was a compliance to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to secure Philippine maritime interests, especially in Philippine Rise.
It was believed to be the largest such mobilization of Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel and equipment in the northern province.
“We are privileged to have additional platforms that includes air and sea assets to be able to ensure our regular maritime patrol in the Philippine Rise, and those are the marching orders of the President—to secure our interest and maritime interest,” Salamat said.
Philippine Rise, located 135 miles east of Aurora province, is part of the country’s 200-kilometer exclusive economic zone that the United Nations declared as part of the country’s extended continental shelf.
While the Navy and Marines regularly conduct maritime patrols off these areas despite the limited assets the country had, the presence of Marine forces in the northern frontier is dedicated to monitor the daily situation in the country’s maritime waters.
“The commitment of the national government is to really ensure that we are monitoring what is happening in our maritime waters including the Philippine Rise and the Scarborough Shoal so we will continue to perform our mandated task—that is to protect our sovereignty,” Salamat said.
He said the Marines would also be protecting Filipino fishermen in the waters of Northern Luzon.
At present, Salamat said, they are setting up a shelter for Filipino fishermen in Mavulis Island, situated in the northernmost part of the Batanes island chain. It could also be used by the Marines.
The Marines, Salamat said, would protect the public from all threats to national security, including the New People’s Army.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the Philippines would not accept the Chinese names for five Philippine Rise features and said he brought the matter up with his Chinese counterparts during a recent consultation.
Cayetano, however, said China was within its rights to name the features that it discovered.
“In the scientific community, if you discover something, you have the right to name it,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.
He said the Philippines would not file a diplomatic protest in the same way it did not object to the Americans for naming the area Benham Rise.
He said that under the requirements of the International Hydrographic Organization—Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (IHO-IOC GEBCO) Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN), if a country has the resources for research, scientists, and equipment, it can name any water features that it discovers.
“Anyone who follows the requirements can name it,” Cayetano said.
Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal had said in a Facebook post that the IHO approved the names submitted by China for five features all within 200 nautical miles of the east coast of Luzon.
The Chinese names are: Jinghao Seamount and Tianbao Seamount (both around 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan province), Haidonquing Seamount (190 nautical miles east of Cagayan province) and Cuiqiao Hill and Jujiu Seamount.
The names for three of the features were reportedly submitted for consideration in 2014 by the China Navy Hydrographic Office, which discovered the features, Batongbacal said.
The names for the two other features were submitted for approval by the China Ocean Minerals R&D Association in 2016.
Cayetano said as soon as the Philippines is able to officially get the data, the country will apply to the IHO and name the five features in Filipino.
“We will tell IHO that we won’t recognize any Chinese name unless we agree to it,” he said.
The Philippines is not a member of the sub-committee. China’s proposals to name the undersea features were submitted to the body in its October 2015 and September 2017 meetings.
The 13-million hectare Philippine Rise lies in the eastern part of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, about 250 kilometers east of Dinapigue, Isabela, and is said to be wider than Luzon, Samar and Leyte combined.
In 2012, the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf approved the country’s undisputed territorial claim over the area, also called Benham Rise.
The Philippine Rise is not within the disputed South China Sea and the Philippines has the sovereign right to explore and exploit all the natural resources found in it as part of the country’s extended continental shelf.
President Duterte renamed the underwater region from Benham Rise to Philippine Rise in May 2017 following sightings of a Chinese survey ship in the territory. With Sara Susanne D. Fabunan
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