MANILA, Philippines --- It's official.
The Aquino government has formally named the maritime areas of the western side of the Philippine archipelago as the "West Philippine Sea" and moved to popularize the change in the geographical name here and abroad.
President Benigno S. Aquino III has issued Administrative Order No. 29 formally naming the West Philippine Sea, from the original South China Sea, in the country's map.
Under AO 29, signed last September 5, the areas include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
The President directed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to inform the United Nations (UN) and other international groups about the change in the region's name. Government agencies, schools and universities are also encouraged to use the name West Philippine Sea in the new official maps.
"The Philippines exercises sovereign jurisdiction in its EEZ (exclusive economic zone) with regard to the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures; marine scientific research; protection and preservation of the marine environment; and other rights and duties provided for in UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)," the order read.
"In the exercise of sovereign jurisdiction, the Philippines has the inherent power and right to designate its maritime areas with appropriate nomenclature for purposes of the national mapping system," the order read.
The Philippines' exclusive economic zone covers a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines of the archipelago. Republic Act No. 9522 or the Baselines Law specifically defined and described the baselines of the Philippine archipelago;
The government started calling the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea as early last June at the height of a maritime conflict with China over the Scarborough Shoal. The change of region's name was supposedly aimed to strengthen the country's claim over the resources in the area.
AO 29 noted that 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."
The President also 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 government, through the DFA, would also deposit at the appropriate time a copy of AO 29 enclosing the official map reflecting the West Philippines Sea with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It must also notify relevant international organizations, such as the International Hydrographic Organization and the United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names about the geographical change in the map.
The President also ordered government agencies to use the name West Philippine Sea in all messages and documents "to popularize the use of such name in the general public, both domestically and internationally." They are also enjoined to use the official Philippine maps produced and published by NAMRIA in accordance with AO 29.
The Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and state universities and colleges (SUCs) have also been directed to issue circulars requiring the use of said official Philippine maps in relevant subjects, researches and instructional materials, such as, among others, text books, instructional materials, and audio-visual presentations.
Populate Disputed Isles, Says Senator
Senator Gregorio Honasan said the Philippines should beat China in the race of utilizing the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea and start populating the area.
Honasan gave the suggestion after hearing from Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin that China's plan to bring tourists to an island territory near Zambales would pose security problems.
The matter was earlier reported by Chinese state media that local officials in Sanya City, a tourist destination in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, intends to include the island chains of Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank) and Nansha (Spratlys) in a cruise route under a 10-year tourism development plan.
"So ako suggestion ko talaga unahan natin eh-gawing tourism area, let's populate it although ang problema yung mga pamilya, i-relocate natin ung mga penitentiaries natin doon. Unahan lang yan (My suggestion is that we get there first - transform it into a tourism area. Let's populate it although our big problem would be how to relocate families in the area)," Honasan said.
But while these are stop-gap measures, Honasan said the government should still raise the issue before the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) to raise global awareness over China's "bullying."
Chinese Ships Still In Panatag
Meanwhile, three Chinese vessels are still deployed off the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) shoal, a senior Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) official told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday.
The official, who asked not to be identified, said two Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) vessels and a Fisheries Law Enforcement and Command ship were recently monitored in the area.
"They are still there as our latest aerial patrol," said the official, adding that this time, there were no fishing boats in the vicinity of the shoal.
The official likewise disclosed that local fishermen are helping authorities monitor the presence of Chinese ships in the disputed territory. (With reports from Hannah L. Torregoza and Elena L. Aben)