Protest vs Chinese names for PH Rise features may be too late - expert

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 15 2018 09:47 AM | Updated as of Feb 15 2018 10:18 AM

A technical diver checks out the coral cover during an expedition at Benham Rise last May 26, 2016. Screengrab from a video produced by Oceana Philippines

TOO LATE THE HERO? Manila's rejection of Chinese names for some features on Benham Rise, an underwater plateau off Aurora, should have come years ago and may already be futile, a maritime law expert said Thursday.

Malacañang on Wednesday said it has complained to China about its submission of names for 5 Benham Rise features to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).

The government, however, should have protested as early as 2004 when China started surveying the resource-rich area or when it proposed the 5 names between 2014 and 2017, said Dr. Jay Batongbacal.

"Hindi ko alam kung magwo-work iyan (protest) dahil tapos na ang proseso [ng IHO]. Open ang process. It was transparent. So parang medyo nakakahiya rin naman sa atin na too late the hero naman tayo na biglang mag-o-object," Batongbacal told DZMM.

(I don't know if the protest will still work because the process is already done. The process was open, it was transparent. It may be a bit embarrassing that we are too late the hero and we are objecting all of a sudden.)

"Technically, alam nating nangyayari iyun tapos hindi tayo umaalma. It's going to be awkward and in a way, out of order na," he added.

(Technically, we knew what was happening but we did not complain. It's going to be awkward and in a way, out of order already.)

This photo was taken during a marine expedition at Benham Rise last May 26, 2016. Branching corals contribute to the complexity of the reef. Oceana Philippines

Batongbacal is an associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law and director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

He explained that all states are members of the IHO, which produces international maritme maps and charts.

The proposals that China submitted to the body and all the minutes of its meetings could be accessed online so the Philippines cannot claim that it was unaware of developments in Benham Rise, he said.

The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is believed to be rich in maritime resources. The United Nations in 2012 recognized the Philippines' exclusive economic rights to it as part of its continental shelf.

'FRIENDSHIP HAS LIMITS'

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Beijing may be interested in harvesting the minerals underneath Benham Rise, Batongbacal said, noting that it was a Chinese mining firm which proposed names for the ridge's features.

The government, he said, should take Beijing's activities as a "wake-up call" even as it pursues closer ties with the Asian superpower.

"Hindi naman como magkaibigan tayo, dapat tahimik tayo lagi. Kumbaga, mayroon ding hangganan ang pagkakaibigan, lalo na kung karapatan natin," he said.

(Just because we're friends doesn't mean we should keep silent all the time. Friendship has limits, especially when it infringes our rights.)

China also claims huge areas in the South China Sea, despite competing partial claims from several countries including the Philippines.

A UN-backed tribunal, acting on a case brought by President Rodrigo Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino, rejected Beijing's claims to most of the disputed South China Sea in 2016.

Duterte, however, has set this decision aside as he distanced Manila from its traditional ally the United States and embraced China, seeking financial and military aid.

Earlier this year, Duterte allowed China to conduct a new survey of Benham Rise, spurring criticism that he was allowing them to map out possible routes for submarines.

Duterte this month followed up by banning all foreign scientific exploration at Benham Rise but only after the Chinese had finished their latest survey.

With a report from Agence France-Presse