West Philippine Sea

Move vs China: Town gives Filipino names to 6 Spratlys sandbars, reefs

Rambo Talabong
The Kalayaan local government unit is behind the move, as the national government takes on a warmer stance with China

In a move to assert the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea, the local government unit of Kalayaan municipality in Palawan has given 6 sandbars and coral reefs Filipino names.

In an ordinance signed on Friday, August 14, the Kalayaan LGU named 4 sandbars as Pag-asa Cay 1, 2, 3 and 4 from nearest to farthest, while the reefs were named Pag-asa Reef 1 and 2.

The names came from Pag-asa Island, which is the nearest feature to the cays and reefs. The island is also the seat of government of the archipelagic municipality. (READ: Philippines loses to China 3 years after Hague ruling)

Why does this matter?

In territorial disputes, naming signals assertion. While the West Philippine Sea and its features belong to the Philippines, China continues to expand its claim over the area.

“To strengthen the country’s claim, this municipality deems it appropriate to name the aforesaid sandbars and reefs,” the LGU said in its ordinance.

The Municipality of Kalayaan passed the ordinance despite standing at the front lines of the potentially dangerous dispute. Chinese vessels are regularly spotted in the vicinity. (READ: The residents of Pag-asa: Life on a disputed island)

LGU leading

In a text message to Rappler, Kalayaan municipal officer Maurice Philip Albayda said they had no intentions of “pre-empting” the plans of the national government, which has taken on a friendly stance for China. (READ: ‘Let’s not hurt China’s feelings’: Why Duterte hasn’t visited Pag-asa Island)

The naming comes after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine Navy to stay away from participating in joint maritime drills in the South China Sea – a chance to assert the country’s claim – to prevent any violence from breaking loose.

In a press briefing on August 10, the Philippine Navy chief, Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo, said that as much as possible, they plan to avoid any confrontation with Chinese vessels to prevent escalation. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.