The Philippine government submitted a proposal to the International Hydrographic Organization's Sub-committee on Undersea Feature Names to name an undersea feature off Sabah, Malaysia.
In a move likely to irk Malaysia, Philippines names undersea feature off Sabah
Camille Diola, Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - January 30, 2019 - 7:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines proposed before an international body to name an undersea feature off the coast of Sabah, in a rare move that is expected to rile Malaysian officials.

On Oct. 25, 2018, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority proposed 16 undersea feature names, a majority of which are located in Benham or Philippine Rise, during the meeting of the International Hydrographic Organization's Sub-committee on Undersea Feature Names in New Zealand.

In a document seen by, the Philippine government proposed to name an undersea feature "Banaba Seamount."

This feature is located in the Philippine Sea and is associated with the Palawan Trough. A map attached to the country's application form shows that this feature is also near Sabah, Malaysia.

Based on the Philippines' application form, NAMRIA Administrator Peter Tiangco proposed the naming of the feature off Sabah, which was also concurred by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The feature would be named after the banaba tree, which is native to the Philippines. Locals have been using its leaves to treat digestive problems, kidney inflammation and diabetes.

Late to the party: Malaysia and China beat Philippines to it

NAMRIA, with the blessing of the DFA, may have attempted to name the feature off Sabah following the move of China to name Benham Rise features last year. But Malaysia already proposed a name for what appears to be the same seamount.

In July 2016, Malaysia's National Hydrographic Centre submitted a proposal to the SCUFN to call it "Kinabalu Seamount," after a mountain on the island of Borneo in the state of Sabah.

The coordinates are roughly identical to the feature NAMRIA hopes to name as "Banaba Seamount," indicating the same underwater mountain that Malaysia claims to have discovered in May 2007 on a voyage of MV Teknik Perdana.

NAMRIA, however, claims it discovered the seamount in November 2001 on board BRP Hydrographer Ventura.

The conflicting claims and proposals are likely to invite a protest from Malaysia, but it is not the only country the Philippines is up against. Malaysia has already been at loggerheads with China, which claims to have discovered the same seamount earliest in October 2001 on board RV Haiyang Sihao.

China's Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey also submitted a proposal for the same feature in August 2016, hoping to name it "Yinqing Seamount," a month after Malaysia did.

The subcommittee has yet to resolve the competing proposals of China and Malaysia as of September 2018. The Philippines' proposal, therefore, is likely to be dismissed.

International authorities usually consider the dates of discovery and name submission in granting a country's proposal even as the identified feature is part of the continental shelf of another party.

Sabah, a sticky situation

The consultative committee tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to draft a federal constitution initially wanted to assert the Philippines' claim over Sabah.

Before assuming office in 2016, Duterte said he would pursue the country's claim to Sabah.

The Sultanate of Sulu had jurisdiction over Sabah until it came under the administration of British North Borneo Co. in the late 19th century. In 1963, the British government declared Sabah a part of the newly created Federation of Malaysia.

Amid reports that the Philippines was planning to include Sabah in its territory, Malaysia said it would not entertain Manila's claims.

“The Government of Malaysia reiterates its position that Malaysia does not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah,” Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia YB Dato' Sri Anifah Haji Aman said in January 2018.

The House of Representatives version of the proposed federal Constitution would, later on, drop the Concom's initial proposal to include Sabah in the draft Charter.

The House version also did not mention Benham or Philippine Rise on its draft constitution, steering away from the Concom version.

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