Justice prods Palace to assert PH rights over Benham

SUPREME Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has rebuffed the position of Malacanang that there is nothing wrong with China naming undersea features in the Philippine Rise.

China, Carpio said, has no right to name the undersea features in the area because the Philippines has the preferential right to do so, after it was declared part of the country’s territory.

“We have sovereign rights over Benham Rise because we have exclusive right to explore and exploit the oil, gas and other mineral resources in that area which has been confirmed by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLOS) as part of the extended continental shelf of the Philippines,” said Carpio, who has been in the forefront of asserting the country’s rights over the disputed West Philippine Sea.

Carpio, who was part of the government’s legal team that handled the earlier protest against China’s incursion in disputed islands in the WPS before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, said the naming of undersea features is covered by guidelines set by the International Hydrographic Organization-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IHO-IOC).

“Under the guidelines, the Philippines has the preferential right to name undersea features within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and ECS,” he said.

Because of this, Carpio suggested that the government should now name the undersea features in the Philippine Rise, which will be recognized as the valid names under the IHO-IOC rules.

“However, the Philippines must designate via presidential executive order its government agency that will be responsible for approving names for undersea features within the Philippine EEZ and ECS,” he emphasized.

Carpio said allowing China to name the features in area that is part of the Philippine territory would violate the country’s sovereignty and was therefore unconstitutional.

China renamed several undersea features in the Philippine Rise in submissions to the IHO-IOC in October 2015 and September 2017.

These are the Jinghao and Tianbao seamounts located 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan province, the Haidonquing Seamount further east and the Jujiu Seamount and Cuiqiao Hill, which form the central peaks of the undersea geological province.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said Beijing’s move to assign Chinese names to five seamounts in the Philippine Rise does not have any impact on the sovereign rights that Manila enjoys over the 13 million-hectare extinct underwater volcano ridge.

“Those Chinese labels will not diminish the fact that under international law, Benham is part of the Philippine continental shelf. And all the natural resources found in the waters, seabed and subsoil of Benham belong to the Philippines and form part of our national wealth,” Atienza said.

Just the same, Atienza urged the Philippine government to proceed and give Filipino names to every seamount in Benham.

The Palace said last week it does not recognize the Chinese names and would protest China’s move.

On the other side of the country, China claims about 90 percent of the entire South China Sea but it is being contested by Taiwan and four Asean members — Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

In 2002, Asean and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to address maritime disputes peacefully. More than 14 years have passed since the declaration was signed but parties have yet to craft a binding code of conduct.

Carpio earlier criticized the policy of the Duterte administration to set aside the PCA award won by the Philippines against China.

In its award issued in July 2016, the PCA upheld major submissions of the Philippines, including the declaration of China’s nine-dash line as contrary to UNCLOS and having no basis in law.

The award also affirmed Philippines’ stance that China’s move to shoo away Filipino fishermen at the disputed Scarborough Shoal was also unlawful.

It also declared that the Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank as “part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, and are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”

Topics: Benham Rise
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