DFA: 'Greater West PH Sea' sounds good, but...

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 14) — Senator Francis Tolentino on Thursday suggested if it is possible to change the name of the highly contested West Philippine Sea into "Greater West Philippine Sea" to further affirm the country's sovereign rights over it.

"Can Congress change the name of the West Philippine Sea to encompass a 'Greater West Philippine Sea'?" asked Tolentino during the first public hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Philippine Maritime and Admiralty Zones.

The West Philippine Sea is a part of the South China Sea within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines that Beijing also claims.

Although it might "sound good", the Department of Foreign Affairs said that such a term would not be recognized internationally.

"We are not going to say na hindi pwede, sir (We are not going to say that it's not possible, sir). Except internationally, the term might not be recognized. Like for example, 'West Philippine Sea' does not appear in foreign maps, the term 'West Philippine Sea'," said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega.

"But internally, we can say it's the 'Greater West Philippine Sea.' It sounds good."

In 2016, the arbitral tribunal constituted under UNCLOS largely ruled in favor of the Philippines. It declared that China has no legal basis to claim virtually the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

Aside from China and the Philippines, other claimants to the resource-rich waterway are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The Senate special committee tackled the nine bills filed at the Congress seeking to define the maritime zones within the Philippine jurisdiction.

"The establishment of the maritime zones would provide the necessary foundation and framework for the enactment of subsequent laws pertinent to the rights and obligations of the Philippines over our maritime zones," said De Vega.

Meanwhile, Neil Simon Silva of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea said that having a law on maritime zones would aid the Philippines in negotiating with other countries regarding the territorial dispute.

"Yung maritime zones law, makakabuti po 'yan sa ating political steps. Upang makipag-negotiate tayo in good faith with other countries at sila makipag-negotiate sa atin," he said. "Ngayon, hindi po natin kontrolado ang behavior ng Tsina, sa kanila na po 'yun."

[Translation: The maritime zones law would be beneficial for our political steps. This would help us to negotiate in good faith with other countries and they would likewise do the same. But we cannot control China's behavior, it's up to them if they would recognize it.]