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Manila formalizes ‘West Philippine Sea’ name

By Jean Magdaraog Cordero
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III officially named the waters off the western coast of his nation as “West Philippine Sea.” [Reuters]

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III officially named the waters off the western coast of his nation as “West Philippine Sea.” [Reuters]

MANILA – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III officially named the waters off the western coast of the Philippines, home to the disputed Scarborough reef and Spratly islands, as “West Philippine Sea.”

Aquino signed Administrative Order No. 29, stating that the Philippines has the “inherent power and right to designate its maritime areas,” which include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group [Spratlys] and Bajo De Masinloc [Scarborough reef].

Since June 2011, the Philippine government has been referring to the area as the West Philippine Sea, but Aquino signed the order last month. The order stated “the naming of the West Philippine Sea is without prejudice to the determination of the maritime domain over territories which the Republic of the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction.”

Aquino’s actions to rename a portion of the South China Sea violated the international standardization of geographic names, China’s foreign ministry spokesman said. Hong Lei said the name South China Sea is acknowledged by the international community and had been recognized by the Philippines.

“China has repeatedly urged the Philippines to stop such man-made disputes that complicate the situation in the South China Sea,” Hong said.

Aquino orders maps with name change

Aquino directed the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority [NAMRIA] to produce and publish charts and maps of the Philippines reflecting the West Philippine Sea.

“The Philippine Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA] in consultation with NAMRIA and other appropriate government agencies, shall deposit, at the appropriate time, a copy of this Order enclosing the official map reflecting the West Philippines Sea with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and notify accordingly relevant international organizations, such as the International Hydrographic Organization and the United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names,” the order said.

Meanwhile, already at a military disadvantage in its territorial tiff with China, Philippine officials were at odds over how to deal with the issue.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV crossed paths with Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on how to ease the tension stemming from the row at Panatag [Scarborough] reef.

Since April, the Philippines and China had been locked in a standoff over the reef, where Philippine forces spotted Chinese fishermen gathering marine species but were blocked by Chinese ships when they tried to make arrests.

Both sides had made efforts to ease the tension, but China has so far preferred a bilateral approach, shunning intervention by third parties to ease the tension.

Trillanes, a 41-year-old former mutineer pardoned by Aquino, said he was authorized by the president to conduct backchannel negotiations with China to ease the tension.

But he also challenged del Rosario for adopting a hardline stance on the matter.

Del Rosario has issued a statement, saying “as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, I have sworn to faithfully serve the country. I remain true to my commitment.”

China consistent on South China Sea

In contrast, China has so far spoken on the matter with one voice, insisting the reef, which it calls Huangyan Island, belongs to China. Aside from the reef, China and the Philippines also have a dispute over the Spratly Islands. Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam also have disputes over control of the reef.


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