Palace: PH won't recognize Chinese names of Benham Rise features

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — The government has rejected the names given by China to some undersea features in Benham Rise.

"We object and do not recognize the Chinese names given to some undersea features in the Philippine Rise," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement on Wednesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte named the undersea plateau Philippine Rise in May 2017 after Chinese survey ships were spotted there in March. The area is located 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province and lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone where the country has sole right to its resources.

Roque said the Philippine Embassy in Beijing had "already raised our concern to China."

He added the consulate was "considering a recommendation" to bring the matter up with the international organization that approved the Chinese names – the Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN) of the International Hydrographic Organization and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

The Philippines is not a member of SCUFN where China submitted its proposals during meetings of the organization in Brazil in October 2015 and September 2017.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines' Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said in a Facebook post on Monday that the names were approved in 2016 and 2017.

READ: China names five undersea features in Benham Rise

These are the Jinghao and Tianbao Seamounts located 70 nautical miles east of Cagayan province, the Haidonquing Seamount further east, and the Jujiu Seamount and Cuiqiao Hill in the northern part of the Luzon plateau.

Except for Haidonquing, the names are already included in the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO), an internationally-recognized seafloor map of the world's waters.

Based on the GEBCO website, the four features were "discovered" by Chinese survey vessel Li Siguang Hao in 2004.

It is not immediately known if the research had a permit from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The names Jinghao and Tianbao were proposed by the China Navy Hydrographic Office in 2015.  The other two were proposed by the China Ocean Mineral Resources R&D Association in 2016.

Names can be submitted by individuals, agencies, and organizations involved in conducting marine research in the area.

The United Nations in 2012 ruled the Philippines had sovereign rights over Benham Rise as part of its extended continental shelf.

Batongbacal said China's move was an affront to the country's national pride. The maritime expert also said he believes China would propose more names on sea features in Benham Rise.

'Not for China to name'

Minority Senator Bam Aquino said "it is only right that" the government oppose any move to name areas within the country's territory.

"Benham Rise is clearly Philippine territory and its features are not for China to name," Aquino, chairman of the Senate Committee on Science and Technology, said in a statement.

He urged the government to act on what China is doing to lay claim on Philippine Rise.

"Dapat nang magkaroon ng matibay at malinaw na plano ang pamahalaan sa Philippine Rise, lalo ngayong unti-unti nang kumikilos ang China para ito'y angkinin," he said.

Translation: "The government should have a firm and clear plan on the Philippine Rise, especially now that China is working on claiming it."