Christmas convoy sets off for Ayungin

Emmanuel Tupas - The Philippine Star
Christmas convoy sets off for Ayungin
The civilian vessel M/V Kapitan Felix Oca prepares to leave Manila before dawn yesterday after volunteers prepared supplies and goodies to distribute to residents of remote island communities in the West Philippine Sea and frontliners in the area. The images were posted on Facebook yesterday by the political party Akbayan, a convenor of Atin Ito, which organized the voyage.

MANILA, Philippines — The voyage has begun for a group of volunteers on a mission to deliver supplies and goodies to some remote island communities in the West Philippine Sea as part of what they describe as sharing of the Christmas spirit as well as a demonstration of the Filipinos’ rights and privileges to sail in the country’s waters freely and unmolested.

Over 40 volunteers belonging to the first batch of the so-called Christmas convoy left Manila yesterday morning for El Nido in Palawan on board civilian vessel M/V Kapitan Felix Oca.

The ship is expected to arrive today in El Nido, where the volunteers would merge with a larger group of 100 fishermen, forming part of a 40-boat convoy that would head to Ayungin Shoal, Patag and Lawak Islands from Dec. 10 to 12 to unload essential provisions and gifts for communities in the areas, said Akbayan party president Rafaela David, convenor of Atin Ito.

The civilian contingent comprises representatives from the youth sector, student leaders and fisherfolk.

Atin Ito is a campaign dedicated to advancing the cause of fisherfolk and frontliners in the West Philippine Sea through education and advocacy.

Among the members of Atin Ito are the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, Center for Agrarian Reform for Empowerment and Transformation, Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, Team Manila Lifestyle, Akbayan Youth and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines.

David lauded the efforts of the volunteers, whom she called West Philippine Sea ambassadors.

“This marks the commencement of a meaningful journey to support fisherfolk communities and frontliners in the West Philippine Sea,” David said in a statement.

She said the trip is their collective commitment to improving the living and working conditions of fisherfolk and frontliners in the West Philippine Sea.

The voyage, she added, embodies the country’s resilience and peaceful but determined defense of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity amid Chinese bullying in Philippine waters.

“Our voyage is a testament to the enduring strength of Filipino unity, even in the face of foreign aggression and intrusion within our beloved West Philippine Sea,” David stated.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the ramming by a Chinese flagged vessel of a stationary Filipino fishing boat off Occidental Mindoro had nothing to do with the country’s maritime dispute with Beijing.

M/V Tai Hang 8, which reportedly hit F/B Ruel J in an apparent hit-and-run incident last Dec. 5, traversed the route usually taken by huge maritime vessels, according to PCG spokesman Rear Adm. Armand Balilo.

“The route taken by this vessel is a route regularly traversed by ships sailing to and from Indonesia, and this incident had nothing to do with the West Philippine Sea issue,” Balilo said in Filipino at a briefing yesterday.

He said the allusion – referring to a ship hitting a stationary vessel – was an “ordinary maritime incident.”

But PCG commandant Adm. Ronnie Gil Gavan, according to Balilo, has ordered the PCG to coordinate with China’s Maritime Safety Administration as well as with Indonesian authorities, where M/V Tai Hang 8 was heading, as part of the investigation on the incident.

Five fishermen were rescued after the incident which took place in the waters of Paluan in Occidental Mindoro at daytime last Dec. 5. — Ghio Ong, Sheila Crisostomo

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