History made awry by ‘hototay soup’ | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

History made awry by ‘hototay soup’

Alexander Pope’s oft-quoted phrase, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” should serve as a reminder to those in high power with the stature to shape government policy, before we lose the Philippine Rise to China.

China just named five submarine features in the Philippine Rise that the Monaco-based International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) approved only this Feb. 12.

These officials should hear themselves speak. First, Palace barker Harry Roque amused us with “Siopao, mami, hototay soup, all these were named by the Chinese, but this did not mean China owned these.”


“Childish and stupid,” tweeted Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Teodoro Locsin Jr. of the government’s anti-China critics.


Then the most astounding: “I support Chinese names given by China,” said Senate President Koko Pimentel.

Thereafter the dizzying acrobatics began. The Palace first announced it objected to the Chinese naming, that it will not recognize the names, and that an appeal will be lodged at the IHO for its rejection. It also announced it will ask our Beijing embassy to coordinate with China on the issue.


Next day, the government announced it would give Philippine names to the undersea features. Lo and behold, a few hours later, the tact changed more than dramatically. “We have no problem with the Chinese names,” Palace said.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano added more astonishment: “What was the original name of Philippine Rise? Benham is an American name! The Americans named it. Did we file a diplomatic protest?”

Close your eyes when you listen to these official discourses, and you would think those speaking were state apologists of the People’s Republic of China.

Before we could catch vertigo, saving the wobbly day was the only benign avowal, and the only one certainly suspicious of Chinese interests, that came from Jay Batongbacal, director of UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea. The maritime expert posted:

“Just to get facts straight. Benham Rise was discovered in 1933 and named during the Commonwealth period when the Philippines was under US sovereignty. Back then it was still part of the high seas beyond any national jurisdiction. Benham Rise is thought to have been named after US Navy Admiral Andrew Ellicot Kennedy Benham.

“We did not claim exclusive economic zone jurisdiction over Benham until 1978 though Presidential Decree 1599. We did not acquire jurisdiction over the continental shelf within 200 nautical miles in the Benham Rise region until the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) entered into force in 1994. We did not claim jurisdiction over the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles until 2009, which was validated in 2012. China named features only in 2014.”

Roque sounded more Chinese than siopao: “There is no bad faith on China’s part.” And this is where one is hard put to figure out whether these officials are just plain silly and ridiculous or do not have the national interest in mind.

Roque’s logic is an illogic. After the United Nations approved the Philippine claim in April 2012, China issued a statement that they did not recognize the ruling and that it seeks to claim the Philippine Rise in the near future as part of a so-called “Chinese second-chain islands,” even as there are no existing islands within that oceanic region.

On June 27, 2013, the Want China Times quoted a 1982 statement of Admiral Liu Huaqing, said to be China’s mastermind of its modern naval strategy, that “by 2010 and 2020, China will control the First Island Chains (referring to those in the West Philippine Sea, and which they did) and the Second Island Chains where the gas and deuterium-rich Benham region lies.” The goal is to expand China domination until Guam and the Marianas.

What’s in a name? Plenty. China’s current geopolitical aggression was no factor yet when the IHO named in its 1953 special report, “Limits of Oceans and Seas,” such nomenclatures as Sulu Sea, Manila Trench, Mindanao Trench and Philippine Sea.

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If government is wishy-washy on small matters like siopao and mami, it must be wishy-washy on big matters.

TAGS: Alan Peter Cayetano, Antonio J. Montalvan II, Aquilino Pimentel III, Benham Rise, Harry Roque, international hydrographic organization, Koko Pimentel, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Maritime Dispute, Philippine Rise, Teodoro Locsin Jr.

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