MALACAÑANG said Thursday it is not alarmed over China’s move to tag five underwater features of Philippine Rise with Chinese names, saying there was no bad faith involved and that bilateral relations remain intact.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said the Philippines will assert its sovereign rights over the Philippine Rise and would give Filipino names to each underwater feature found there.
“Giving names does not mean they are claiming it. China recognizes that they have no rights at the Philippine Rise and they recognize our sovereign rights,” Roque said.
“The naming does not entail sovereign rights because sovereign rights [are the] exclusive right to explore and exploit, conduct scientific research, lay submarine cables and build artificial islands,” he added.
Roque said the Philippines would not use the Chinese names and use Filipino ones instead.
China had earlier named four seamounts Jinghao, Tianbao, Haidonquing, and Jujiu; and the Cuiqiao Hill. The Cuiqiao Hill and Jujiu Seamount form the central peaks of the Philippine Rise undersea geological province.
China was one of the countries that conducted scientific research at the Philippine Rise, known internationally as Benham Rise, before President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a stop to all foreign activities in the area.
Roque expressed hope that China will not take it against the Philippines if the Filipinos will not use the Chinese names.
“It is clear that Philippine Rise is under our sovereign rights. We don’t see basis for China to be alarmed with our position that we will insist on our naming rights,” Roque said.
Roque also believed that the issue will not affect the improving relations between China and the Philippines under the Duterte administration.
Roque said the Department of Foreign Affairs is now nominating a Filipino expert to become a member of the UN body which names undersea features.
The Philippine Rise, located on the east side of the country, is a 13-million hectare underwater territory that the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf awarded to the Philippines as part of the country’s extended continental shelf in 2012.
While Roque appeared conciliatory, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the country will never recognized the Chinese names that have been registered by China.
“We do not recognize the Chinese names given to these undersea features in the Philippine Rise,” Esperon said.
Esperon maintained that the decision of the Sub-Committee On Undersea Feature Names was made without any consultation with the Philippine government.
“As a matter of procedure, the approval of proposals for the naming of undersea features are decided upon solely by the 12-member SCUFN composed of Germany (Chair), China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Italy and Russia. Decisions by the SCUFN are deemed as final and non-appealable,” he said.
Esperon said the Philippines has alerted SCUFN against any future applications in Philippine waters.
He said the registration of the seamounts was brought up during the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultative Mechanism meeting held Tuesday.
The opposition Liberal Party said Thursday the government “can’t simply be dismissive” about China’s naming of five features within the Philippine Rise.
In a statement, LP president Senator Francis Pangilinan said the Philippine Rise was within the country’s territory and it is Filipinos that should label the parts of it. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, PNA