A research vessel manned by Filipino scientists and members of international organization Oceana sets sail for Benham Rise from Port Irene in Cagayan in May 2016. Screenshot from Oceana video, file

Lacson rues China naming Benham Rise features
Audrey Morallo (philstar.com) - February 13, 2018 - 9:42pm
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson on Tuesday said the Philippines seems helpless in the face of China's assertiveness in the country's waters after it was revealed that Beijing was able to name five features in the Benham Rise.
 
According to maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal of the University of the Philippines, China was able to successfully name the five features last year following its submission to the International Hydrographic Organization.
 
Lacson said that if this would continue, it might just be a matter of time before Filipinos see Chinese structures on artificial islands in other areas near the Philippines.
 
"It’s probably a matter of time before we see Chinese structures on more artificial islands. Damn us! Are we this helpless," the senator said on Twitter on Tuesday.
 
According to Batongbacal, the named features were the Jinghao and Tianbao Seamounts located some nautical miles east of Cagayan, Haidonquing Seamount further east at 190 nautical miles and the Cuiqiao Hill and Jujiu Seamount that form the central peaks of the Philippine Rise undersea geological province itself.
 
The maritime expert said that three of the features were “discovered” in 2004 by the Li Shiguang Hao of the China Navy Hydrographic Office, which summited the names for consideration in 2014.
 
The two remaining features meanwhile were found by the same ship during the same survey but the proposed names were forwarded in 2016 by the China Ocean Minerals R&D Association. 
 
Batongbacal said, "all are within 200 nautical miles of the east coast of Luzon, not in the region of the extended continental shelf but well within the ‘legal’ continental shelf," which he said was within 200 nautical miles where a coastal state’s rights were "ipso facto" (by the fact itself) and "ab initio" (from the start) and do not need to undergo a claim process.
 
In contrast, according to Batongbacal, rights over the extended continental shelf must be validated by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, adding that more proposals are to be expected.
 
President Rodrigo Duterte recently barred foreign research teams from conducting studies in the undersea region believed to hold vast amounts of natural resources.
 
Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list), who is with the House opposition, said that Duterte's order came two days after the research team from China left the area, suggesting that they were able to finish their studies before the order. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque suggested much the same thing when he said Duterte gave the order after the Chinese scientists concluded their research.
 
China has said its research expeditionw was in Philippine waters but not in the Benham Rise region.
 
Duterte also warned that he would order the Philippine Navy to fire upon vessels that would extract natural resources from the country’s territory.
 
The Philippines and China are currently embroiled in a sea dispute over the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea claimed by Manila.
 
It was recently revealed that China was also done with its militarization of artificial features in the area despite the rapprochement between Beijing and Manila under Duterte who is keen to invite Chinese money and investments to the Philippines.

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