THE Philippines will contest the naming of five underwater features of the Philippine Rise (Benham Rise) by China, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella said on Wednesday, as President Rodrigo Duterte warned of war over unauthorized expeditions to the area.
Abella said the government raised its objection to the research activity of the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences on February 13 during the second bilateral consultations with China, which also discussed the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute.
“There is a mechanism for bilateral conversation and it (naming of features) was initially raised there so that is the first step,” Abella told reporters in a news conference at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City.
Abella said the government would also register its objection before the body that approved the naming of the underwater features, referring to the International Hydrographic Organization – Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (IHO-IOC GEBCO) Sub-Committee on Undersea Feature Names (SCUFN).
Asked if China expressed willingness to withdraw the names it had registered, Abella said there was no response.
He said the Philippines would course its concerns through dialogue, which would include an agreement that no further research must be done without permission from the Philippines.
The Duterte administration was heavily criticized after it was revealed that it allowed China to conduct research at the Philippine Rise, a resource-rich underwater plateau located east of Isabela declared by the United Nations in 2012 as an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
Last month, the government announced stricter rules for foreign researchers seeking to explore the Philippine Rise.
Duterte threatens war
Also on Wednesday, President Duterte warned of the possibility of war erupting over the Philippine Rise should any country conduct maritime research there without permission from Manila.
In his speech during the inauguration of a housing project in Marawi City, Duterte reiterated that the Philippine Rise belongs to the Philippines.
“The Philippine Rise, `yan atin talaga `yan (that’s really ours). May pinadala ako doon na Marines, isang batalyon. Sinabi ko talaga, walang mage-experiment na diyan hangga’t wala silang permiso galing sa akin (I already sent a battalion of Marines there. I said no one can conduct any experiment there unless they have my permission),” he said.
Duterte also likened a proposed joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea to “co-ownership.”
“Now, they offered joint exploration. So that’s like co-ownership, it’s like two of us own that. That’s better than fighting,” he said.
“See, if I annoyed them before, called them sons of bitches, nothing would have happened,” the President added.
with CATHERINE S. VALENTE