MANILA, Philippines - The official map of the Philippines will include in 2013 for the first time the name "West Philippine Sea" for maritime territories claimed in the South China Sea as well as the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
This was confirmed on Wednesday, January 16, by officials at the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria), which has already submitted drafts for approval to Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
"Previously, in the old maps, the EEZ was not yet indicated, but for the new maps we will now have to produce, we will have to include the EEZ," Namria's Mapping and Geodesy Department director Ruel Belen told Rappler.
Belen explained that apart from the EEZ and the "West Philippine Sea," updating the national map is "business as usual."
"It's normal for Namria to update information on the map, it just so happened that we needed to put in new information, in this case the West Philippine Sea," he said.
China -- which disputes Philippine sovereignty over certain maritime territories in the area -- ignores the new official name and rejects the full EEZ as drawn by Manila.
Malacañang said last year that calling the area "West Philippine Sea" should be no cause for conflict.
Tasked by Aquino
Namria immediately started working on the new map when President Benigno Aquino III instructed the government agency to do so in September 2012.
Under Administrative Order No. 29, Namria was to publish charts and maps covering areas “around, within, and adjacent to” the Spratlys (Kalayaan Island Group) and Scarborough Shoal (also called Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc), both claimed in full or in part by China.
It took a team of 10 experts less than a week to complete the task, but much more time was needed for Malacañang and the DFA to go over the drafts.
One controversial issue was where to put and how to write the text of the new official name "West Philippine Sea."
The text could either be written horizontally but not covering the whole EEZ, or vertically inside the 200-nautical-mile demarcation line that highlights the area of sovereign national territory, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the matter was resolved then the government chose the latter option.
"They instructed us that this is where the [name] 'West Philippine Sea' should be placed," said Joaquin Borja, officer-in-charge of Namria's Cartography Division.
Another sticky point was the new official name itself.
"The former name of that part of the world is South China Sea, so when we name it as such, West Philippine Sea, definitely there will be a not-so-good reaction from the party," Namria chief administrator Dr. Peter Tiangco told Rappler.
Tiangco said that in any case Namria did as it was told: "Technically we don't have any problem, it's our bread and butter."
China already has own new map
Namria submitted their final drafts to Malacañang and the DFA a few weeks ago, but the government has still not given the final approval.
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said on Monday, January 14, that the mapmakers will have to use our laws to draw up an official map of the country [so that] all parts of our national territory will be included."
"It is very clear that based on UNCLOS, we have the 200 nautical miles of EEZ and that area in the West Philippine Sea is clearly part of our national territory," Hernandez noted when asked if the EEZ would be included in the new official map.
The DFA is now mulling a protest against China after Beijing announced that it was set to publish a new official map of the South China Sea that will include areas claimed by the Philippines.
China's official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday, January 11, that the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation had approved new national maps including for the first time the more than 130 islands and islets that Beijing claims in the South China Sea.
The editor of the maps said that the charts "will be very significant in enhancing Chinese people's awareness of national territory, safeguarding China's marine rights and interests and manifesting China's political diplomatic stance."
In late November 2012, China increased tensions with other claimant countries in the South China Sea after Beijing started issuing its citizens new biometric passports with a map based on the controversial 9-Dash line.
The Philippines and Vietnam refused to stamp the travel documents. - Rappler.com