China names five undersea features in Benham Rise

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Research cruise plan of Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to the UP Marine Science Institute. Circles are where instruments will be deployed for long-term monitoring and squares are stations where water profile measurements will be conducted. Blue line represents Philippine EEZ and white line the ECS. | Photo from UP MSI

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 13) — Five undersea features in Benham Rise now bear Chinese names.

A maritime law expert said China successfully named four undersea mountains and a hill within the country's extended continental shelf in Benham Rise, where the country has sole right over resources.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines' Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, on Tuesday told CNN Philippines China's proposed names were approved in 2017.

He said it was an affront to the country's national pride.

"Ika nga eh nasulot tayo. Tayo yung nag-ani, tayo nagsaing pero iba yung kumain no, literally kasi dapat tayo yung nagpangalan ng mga lugar na yan," Batongbacal said.

[Translation: We were robbed. We harvested, cooked, but someone else ate, literally, because we should be the one naming those places.]

He said Chinese navy ships have been surveying the country's waters since 2004. It is not immediately known if the research had permit from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In 2014, China submitted names for consideration by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), an intergovernmental organization which aims to ensure the world's waters are surveyed and charted.

He said the IHO approved one name in 2016, the other four in 2017.

These are the Jinghao and Tianbao seamounts seventy nautical miles east of Cagayan province, the Haidonquing Seamount further east, and the Jujiu Seamount and Cuiqiao Hill which form the central peaks of the undersea geological province.

The IHO website has published documents on Jinghao, Tianbao, and Jujiu seamounts, and Cuiqiao Hill. The proposer is named Xu Jinde of the China Navy Hydrographic Office. 

Batongbacal said the government did not object to the naming of the country's waters, adding this happened under the Duterte administration.

"It seems that the Philippine government was not really paying attention especially during the most important meetings where it was finally approved," he said.

Batongbacal said they even raised the concern with Malacañang through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, but the matter was supposedly neglected.

He said he believes China is set to propose more names on sea features in Benham Rise, which the government calls Philippine Rise. President Rodrigo Duterte renamed it in May 2017 after Chinese survey ships were spotted there in March.

Benham Rise is an undersea plateau 135 miles off the coast of Aurora province.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos contributed to this report.