MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government can counter China’s recent moves naming districts and maritime features in the South China Sea by assigning the Philippines’ central mapping agency to name features in the country's waters, including the West Philippine Sea.
This was the solution offered by retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, who said that if the government designated the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) as the national authority approving names, Chinese attempts in the waterway would lose its bearing.
Carpio said this followed rules of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanography Commission (IOC), which approve applications for names of maritime features, unless a coastal state has identified a national agency to do so.
"All we have to do is name NAMRIA, communicate to IHO and IOC that we have given NAMRIA the authority to approve names and they will stop accepting applications for names," Carpio said in a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on Monday, April 27.
Carpio first offered the suggestion in 2018, following China’s naming of 5 underwater features in Benham Rise.
At the time, NAMRIA had requested for the nullification of Chinese names, saying the manner by which China collected the data it submitted to the IHO and IOC violated international law since the Philippine government did not allow China to undertake surveys in 2004.
Carpio said since 2018, however, the Philippine government has not given NAMRIA the power to approve names for maritime features in Philippine waters.
"It is within our control, we should have done this a long time ago," he said.
China earlier defended its move to create administrative districts and list names and coordinates of 80 islands, reefs, seamounts, shoals, and ridges – some of which were submerged in water. The Philippines earlier protested Beijing's declaration parts of Philippine terriorty were Chinese terriorty.
Carpio said while naming features does not automatically grant sovereign rights, he warned these could be used as another way to further Beijing’s false claims that it owned the South China Sea.
"Names do not determine ownership or sovereignty but it’s a matter of propaganda for China," Carpio said.
The retired justice – who was among those that spearheaded the Philippines' 2016 victory against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration – said China’s naming of features and districts in the South China Sea was part of its overall strategy to establish the 9-dash line as its national boundary.
The 9-dash line was debunked by the 2016 Hague ruling that asserted the Philippines' rights in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines, Carpio said, must therefore resist China's efforts to expand its claims in the maritime area as the West Philippine Sea and its features belong to Filipinos. (READ: Carpio on West Philippine Sea: Every Filipino's duty to defend PH territory)