THE Palace is to be commended for protesting China’s naming of five features in the Philippine Rise, also known as Benham Rise.
That vast undersea area in the Pacific is part of the Philippines’ continental shelf, therefore giving the country sovereign rights, including the economic exploitation of natural resources. Manila is well within its rights to insist that other countries seek its permission to conduct research in the area, and even drive away foreign vessels as recently ordered by the President.
What we don’t get is this constant back-pedalling and downplaying of the issue by government spokesmen, to the point of abandoning logic.
First is the revision of the President’s clear order to stop all foreign research at Benham Rise, as announced by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.
“Let me be very clear about this: the Philippine Rise is ours and any insinuation that it is open to everybody should end with this declaration,” Duterte was quoted as saying at the beginning of a Cabinet meeting on February 5.
That strong statement was promptly toned down by Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr., who reversed Piñol and said there was really no strict ban on foreign research at Benham.
After maritime expert Jay Batongbacal bared that China had secured international approval to name five features at Benham, the Palace response was downright ridiculous. “China has given names to many objects, no,” Roque told reporters on February 16, “Siopao, siomai, ampao, pechay, hototay. But all of that didn’t mean China wanted everything for itself.”
Roque, an international law expert, should, of all people, know that throughout history, particularly China’s history, the naming of territories is one of the acts that could later be used to infer sovereignty.
The 2015 book “Lessons from the Disturbed Waters: The Diaoyu/Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands Disputes” by Hui-Yi Katherine Tseng notes that naming a place is one of the “sovereign inferences” recognized by international law.
“Generally speaking, naming is a piece of demonstrating evidence, showing that a sovereign power is exercising administrative management by prescribing the disputed place a name and a corresponding position in its governance structure,” she writes.
It’s even more absurd to argue that the Philippines didn’t protest when the US named the undersea region after an American. As Batongbacal explains: “Benham Rise was discovered and named in 1933 during the Philippine Commonwealth Period when [the Philippines]was under US sovereignty. Back then it was still part of the high seas beyond any national jurisdiction. Benham Rise is thought to be named after [US Navy Admiral] Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham (1832-1905).”
“We did not claim [exclusive economic zone]jurisdiction over [Benham Rise] until 1978 through [Presidential Decree] 1596. We did not acquire jurisdiction over the continental shelf within 200 [nautical miles]in the Benham Rise Region until [the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]entered into force in 1994. We did not claim jurisdiction over the continental shelf beyond 200 [nautical miles]until 2009, which was validated in 2012. China submitted its proposal to name features only in 2014.”
The President’s men, bereft of history and logic, would do well to take their cue from the President, not from their perceived or anticipated backlash from Beijing.