SC Justice: Assign NAMRIA to name Benham Rise features

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 22) — If the Philippines' central mapping agency names Benham Rise features, China's names will have no bearing, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Thursday.

Carpio suggested designating the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to approve proposed names for features in the country's extended continental shelf, of which it has sovereign rights.

He explained the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO recognize the Philippines' sovereign rights over the area. The two international bodies reportedly approved China's names for four undersea mountains and a hill in Benham Rise.

Related: China names five undersea features in Benham Rise

"It says [in the IHO and IOC guidelines]... if the national authority, the Philippines, has designated an agency to approve proposed names on the EEZ and extended continental shelf, that authority... prevails over the [IHO] and [IOC]," Carpio told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"The President should by executive order should designate NAMRIA... Then the Chinese will have to submit names to NAMRIA," he added.

Carpio said IHO and IOC approved the names because the Philippines did not assign an agency that could name its resources.

"All you have to do is name NAMRIA and that's it. The problem is solved," he said.

While the Philippines has said it would not recognize Chinese names for the features, it stopped short of calling out the eastern giant.

Relations with China have warmed under President Rodrigo Duterte. Officials have not raised the arbitral tribunal ruling that favors the Philippines' claims over other another disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea.

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay warned China's efforts to name features in Benham Rise could be an attempt at claiming the area east of the Philippines too. The concern was raised after the Philippines approved a joint exploration with China in the area.

Related: Former SolGen: Naming Benham Rise features 'preparatory' to China claim

Carpio agrees, noting that China's argument when claiming the West Philippine Sea had been the supposed historic nine-dash line. The arbitral tribunal invalidated the argument.

"China is saying, 'We owned the South China Sea since 2,000 years ago because we were the first to discover, name, and explore the [sea].' Now, China is saying we were the first to discover, name, and explore Benham Rise," said Carpio.

"Down the line, maybe a hundred years from now, they might also claim Benham Rise," he warned.

Duterte has since said Benham Rise belongs to the country, but did not take offense at China naming the features.

Related: Duterte: PH owns Benham Rise

Watch The Source's full interview with Carpio here.