PH agency wants Chinese names for Benham Rise features nullified

Camille Elemia

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PH agency wants Chinese names for Benham Rise features nullified
The Philippines' central mapping agency says the data China used for naming the features were collected, without permission, within Philippine jurisdiction

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines’ central mapping agency is seeking the nullification of Chinese names for underwater features in Benham Rise.

Captain Herbert Catapang, assistant director of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) hydrography branch, submitted a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to request for the nullification of Chinese names for 5 underwater features.

The letter was submitted to DFA Assistant Secretary Lourdes Yparraguirre during the Senate science and technology committee hearing on Monday, February 26.

“We have asked the DFA to request the SCUFN for the nullification of the decision,” Catapang said, referring to the International Hydrographic Organization-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (IHO-IOC GEBCO) Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN).

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr and maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal told the Senate committee that there was a plan to name the features after local trees and birds.

Catapang said the SCUFN, which approved the Chinese names, did not follow the rules of procedure.

First, Catapang said the manner by which China collected the data it submitted violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) because the Philippine government did not allow China to undertake surveys in 2004. (READ: Gov’t admits China surveyed Benham Rise without permit)

In its application to the SCUFN in 2014, China claimed it “discovered” 3 of the features during a 2004 survey by the Li Shiguang Hao of the China Navy Hydrographic Office.

Two years later, in 2016, China claimed in another application that it also “discovered” two more features in the same 2004 survey.

Esperon said the Philippine government did not authorize the research.

“For one, [they] conducted MSR (marine scientific research) in 2004. It did not go through the process, they had no permits. That ship, as a result, they filed for naming of names, this is now those they filed in May 2016,” Esperon said.

No consultation, ‘politically sensitive’

Catapang also argued that the provision encouraging consultation among interested parties was “ignored” by the international agency.

It states that:

“There is significant benefit to be gained from mutual consultation by all interested parties in preparing and submitting proposals to SCUFN. National naming authorities are encouraged to consult on undersea features’ names in their mutual areas of interest prior to submitting proposals to SCUFN.”

“As far as we know, there was no consultation made before the submissions of the proposals to SCUFN,” Catapang said.

He added that the organization violated the provision that prohibits the SCUFN from considering name proposals that are “politically sensitive.”

“We can consider these proposals as such considering our dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea and the result of the recent arbitral ruling on [the] South China Sea,” Catapan said.

Yparraguirre said the DFA would first discuss the matter. DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier told reporters that the government plans to register Filipino names before the same international agency.

“Let’s be proactive in protecting Philippine interests. Whether it’s diplomatic or through this process, we will put Filipino names,” Cayetano earlier said.

Malacañang also said it does not recognize the Chinese names. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippine government has supposedly reached out to China with its concern. (READ: No bad faith on part of China in naming PH Rise features – Roque) –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a former multimedia reporter for Rappler. She covered media and disinformation, the Senate, the Office of the President, and politics.