A maritime law expert on Wednesday said Filipinos were robbed by China of its undersea features that are within Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"Para sa atin, wake-up call nga 'to. This is more an issue of national honor and dignity kasi para tayong nasulot," Dr. Jay Batongbacal said in a Bandila DZMM interview.
Batongbacal is an associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law and director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) approved China's proposal in 2017 to assign Chinese names to 5 undersea features within Benham Rise (Philippine Rise).
Unbeknown to many Filipinos, Batongbacal said such activity is used by China "to demonstrate their marine science technology capability as a means of gaining maritime power."
More proposals can be expected from China, he warned.
"For them, it's actually a policy. A government policy to name as many as they can to seed 'yung Chinese culture and really plant their cultural flags all over," Batongbacal said.
Malacañang on Wednesday opposed China's move and would raise the issue through the Philippine embassy in Beijing.
However, Batongbacal said there's no provision in the procedures at IHO, an intergovernmental organization that ensures the world's waters are surveyed and charted, that allows to reverse its decision.
The Philippine government, the maritime expert noted, didn't object to China's proposal when it had the opportunity.
This happened during the administrations of former President Benigno Aquino III and President Rodrigo Duterte.
"Titingnan natin kung ano ang magiging reaction ng IHO kung papayag sila. Kasi nga lalabas nun, politically controversial pala 'yung naming. Tapos, from this time on, dapat binabantayan natin lagi 'yan," he said.
Chinese navy ships have been surveying Philippine waters since 2004 and sent a proposal to IHO to name the undersea features in 2014.
The features named by China are Jinghao Seamount, Tianbao Seamount, Haidonquing Seamount, Cuiqiao Hill, and Jujiu Seamount.
BE MORE ASSERTIVE
Meanwhile, Magdalo Party-List Rep. Gary Alejano urged the Duterte administration to be more assertive and consistent in exercising the exclusive rights of the Philippines over the Benham Rise.
"The government must be resolute in asserting our rights and protecting our territory instead of downplaying threats of Chinese encroachment. The audacity of China, to the extent of naming features found within our very own territory, is reinforced by the passivity of the Duterte administration," he said in a statement.
Alejano also warned of the implications of China's move.
"The successful naming of features within the Philippines' legal maritime territory further normalizes China's aggressive and all too often unlawful maritime behavior. The adverse implications of which are the erosion and ultimately, the concession of the Philippines' sovereign rights over the region," he said.
Alejano is set to file a resolution in the House of Representatives condemning China's attempt of naming the undersea features in the Benham Rise.
Benham Rise is a 13-million-hectare area located east of Luzon island.