By Camille A. Aguinaldo

The Philippine government plans to register Filipino names to the undersea features in Benham Rise before the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano said Friday.

“Once we have all the data, we will also apply at the IHO… Let’s be proactive in protecting Philippine interests whether it’s diplomatic or through this process, we will put Filipino names,” he said at a press briefing in Taguig City.

Mr. Cayetano revealed that the government has told China its concerns over latter’s registration of official names for five underwater sea features in Benham Rise.

“We have communicated to China that we understand that for them, it was purely scientific. But it’s not a good time to have Chinese names in some features because we have a live dispute in the South China Sea,” he said.

The IHO subcommittee on undersea features naming (IHO-SCUFN) approved China’s proposal despite the 2012 ruling of the United Nations that the Philippines has sovereign rights over the 13 million-hectare underwater plateau off the coast of Isabela.

Mr. Cayetano also reiterated that the Philippines would not accept the official names proposed by China.

As for the issue on China’s recent construction at the disputed areas in the South China Sea, Mr. Cayetano said that the Chinese government has informed them that their  military build-up were a response to “foreign forces” wanting to contain their country’s growth as a superpower.

“As an emerging superpower, they have to think about their defenses. Of course they have communicated to us that we are not its enemies. It’s not against you…but it’s against foreign forces outside that wants to contain China, confront China on their growth,” he said.

Mr. Cayetano pointed out that other countries claiming a portion of the South China Sea were also building up its military bases in the area while foreign ships also pass through under the freedom of navigation.

“They are all saying it’s defensive. It’s not really a base…Where do you draw the line that it’s only a defensive mechanism or when is it an encampment or a base already? In international geopolitics,that’s always debated,” he said.

The DFA chief said the issue was brought during a bilateral consultative meeting between Philippines and China, with the former expressing “strong reactions” on the latter’s militarization activities.

He added that the Philippines would not be caught into the conflict among world powers as it holds strong bilateral relations with the advanced countries.

“We want West Philippine Sea under the regime of UNCLOS (United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea),” he said.

Meanwhile, he said that China has clarified that their efforts were not targeted at the Philippines, noting that their military build-up was rooted from a complex and regional issue.

Mr. Cayetano also mentioned that the Philippines was designated as the country coordinator to China for the negotiations for the South China Sea code of conduct (COC) on March.

“We’re in a good position to push for a very strong COC… Our target is for it to be legally binding and with enforcement mechanism,” he said.