PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte can rename, through executive order (EO), five undersea features in the Philippine Rise that Beijing earlier gave Chinese names to.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and Foreign Affairs Secretary Lourdes Yparraguirre stressed this during Thursday’s resumption of the public hearing on the proposal to form the Philippine Rise Development Authority (PRDA).
The Philippines in February protested China’s move to rename five undersea features in the Philippine Rise – Jinghao, Tianbao, Haidonquing, Jujiu seamounts and Cuiqiao Hill.
Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, said the public hearing showed that nothing prevented the Philippines from renaming, for “domestic use,” the five undersea features.
“It showed that there is no prohibition for us to rename them for internal purpose. I suggested to the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and Namria (National Mapping and Resource Information Authority) to immediately rename the five underwater features into Filipino names,” he said in an interview.
Asked about the process of renaming the undersea features, Gatchalian said, “It’s not that long. Namria will make a recommendation and then (the President will issue an) executive order or presidential decree. There will be no debate on that.”
The bill will formally rename Benham Rise, discovered in 1933 by Andrew Benham, to Philippine Rise. The Philippine Rise is said to have huge deposits of solid nodules of methane that could potentially turn the Philippines into a natural gas exporter.
It is a seismically active undersea region estimated to cover an area of about 13 million hectares located east of Luzon and is 35 meters underwater, with the shallowest point located off the provinces of Aurora and Isabela.
When it comes to renaming the five undersea features, Yparraquirre said, “In our experience, domestically, we named areas through an EO.”
She noted that Malacañang issued last year EO 25 renaming Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.
The government in 2012 issued EO 29 renaming “that part of our maritime jurisdiction in the western seaboard as West Philippine Sea.”
She stressed that naming maritime features or undersea features “is not a basis for claiming sovereignty, sovereign rights or jurisdiction because maritime jurisdiction, maritime entitlements are already enshrined in Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”
She agreed with the statement of another resource person, Neil Silva of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, who said China’s naming of the undersea features was “a matter of international pride.”
“It’s also a matter of demonstrating the capabilities of the state to conduct hydrographic surveys to be able to present data to a competent international organization as a basis for its naming proposals,” Yparraguirre said.