WPS civilian convoy reaches Panatag today

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
WPS civilian convoy reaches Panatag today
About 100 fishing boats sail toward Pan- atag Shoal during the second civilian-led resupply mission by the Atin Ito Coalition yesterday.
Miguel De Guzman, AFP

MANILA, Philippines —  The Atin Ito Coalition’s second civilian supply mission to the West Philippine Sea is expected to reach Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal today, where the China Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels have reportedly set up a blockade to stop the convoy from reaching its main destination.

At least three Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels have been deployed to monitor the activity along with a Philippine Navy warship also in the area at an undisclosed location and distance.

Yesterday afternoon, the convoy led by five small civilian boats successfully reached waters outside the 12-nautical-mile territorial waters of the Philippines and planted buoys within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The mission also distributed food, fuel and other supplies to some 100 fishing boats that joined the first phase of the trip to Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.

“Atin Ito is now in EEZ and has successfully deployed symbolic buoys/markers bearing the message: WPS, Atin Ito! Atin Ito’s main civilian boats are now distributing supplies … to Filipino fishers in our EEZ,” organizers led by the Akbayan Party announced yesterday.

“(A hundred) small fish boats will go back to Masinloc. Five civilian boats will continue to go near the vicinity of BdM for second round of supply distribution. That is where things could get ‘interesting’,” Atin Ito said.

Early in its civilian supply mission to the WPS, the coalition said it has executed its three main objectives – “conducting a peace and solidarity regatta comprised of five civilian marine vessels and 100 small fishing boats in our EEZ, placing symbolic buoys/markers… and completing the first round of distributing supplies…”

The group did not identify where these activities were held.

“The Atin Ito contingent will now proceed to the second phase of its voyage, aiming to reach the vicinity of Panatag Shoal for another round of supply distribution to Filipino fisherfolk in the area,” the organizers announced.

Atin Ito said it has also already achieved victory in the battle of narratives, saying “China’s narrative has significantly faltered.”

“It is running a very bad script. When a superpower deploys a fleet of military vessels to act as a goalkeeper in a shoal it has no authority over, against a group of wooden fishing boats manned by Filipino civilians, it is unmistakably exposed as an aggressor, usurper and illegal occupant,” Akbayan president and Atin Ito co-convenor Rafaela David said.

Edicio dela Torre of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement echoed the same sentiments, stating that “the persistent aggression displayed by China in the West Philippine Sea only highlights its lack of legitimate claim. Our mission is a testament to the resilience and rightful assertion of our sovereignty by the Filipino people.”

Around 200 volunteers, including crew, are on board the five commercial vessels, and another 100 fishers command the smaller boats.

Atin Ito said this second civilian supply mission is joined by the New Masinloc Fishermen’s Associations, Subic Commercial Fishing Association Inc., Mabayo Agri Aqua Association in Bataan, Pambansang Katipunan ng Samahan sa Kanayunan, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, Center for Agrarian Reform, Empowerment and Transformation, Akbayan Youth and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines.

Chinese shadowing

Late yesterday afternoon, Atin Ito said two CCG vessels started shadowing the convoy, with one approaching at a distance of only one nautical mile.

Organizers said the PCG’s BRP Bagacay is protecting the civilian boats and exchanged radio challenges with the Chinese vessel 50 nautical miles from Panatag Shoal.

Atin Ito said the first CCG vessel had a bow number 4109 while the second that appeared and approached later had bow number 4108.

“Atin Ito contingent will continue with its course. Atin Ito will still proceed with its voyage,” organizers updating the media through Viber said.


Two more PCG vessels are providing escort to the Atin Ito Coalition’s civilian mission to Bajo de Masinloc, PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo said yesterday.

Balilo said their 24-meter patrol boats BRP Panglao and BRP Boracay will join BRP Bagacay in escorting the civilian convoy that would distribute supplies to fishermen and lay down symbolic markers.

“The BRP Boracay is in Subic already, while the BRP Panglao is already on its way to the area. These are 24-meter patrol boats that are fast and with excellent maneuverability,” Balilo said.

Upon orders of PCG Commandant Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, a PCG aircraft would also follow the fleet, he added.

Prayer for Atin Ito

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Kalookan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David yesterday asked the public to pray for the safety of those who joined the Atin Ito civilian mission.

“Let us accompany the civilian supply mission to the West Philippine Sea with our prayers. Let us pray to the Lord that no untoward incident happens to the fleet of five civilian marine vessels and 100 small fishing boats that are presently navigating their way through our exclusive economic zone to deliver fuel and food supplies to our fisherfolk in the vicinity of the Panatag Shoal,” said David.

“A stubborn civilian presence instead of a joint military show-of-force is indeed the peaceful, nonviolent approach to this conflict. This is also a good test case of civilian supremacy over the military, which is essential in a true democracy,” he said.

“This is a better way to express our unity as a nation and assert our sovereignty towards China without succumbing to the demands of warmongers who are eager to involve us in a violent proxy war that would only benefit the major arms industries,” he added.

Atin Ito hailed

Speaking on behalf of the National Task Force for WPS, PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela praised the civilian initiative by Atin Ito Coalition, its second since last December.

“In the eyes of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, this is a good sign. Because of our transparency initiative that started last year, activities like Atin Ito signify that there are members of civil society that support our position,” Tarriela said at a press conference.

He reiterated that the convoy was “not sanctioned by the national government,” contrary to what he alleged was information from Chinese authorities.

Tarriela maintained that the Philippines would never wage war against China, but instead assert its sovereignty as guaranteed by the EEZ and the 2016 arbitral award.

Tarriela also slammed a Chinese publication that accused Filipinos of polluting the area.

According to a post on X by Global Times, “China’s national English language newspaper, under the People’s Daily,” Filipino fishermen “engaged in uncivilized behaviors – spitting, urinating, dumping garbage on and around China’s Huangyan Dao, which caused pollution to the marine environment in the South China Sea.”

Global Times also posted videos that showed alleged Filipino fisherfolk smoking and peeing on their boats, as well as throwing trash.

“I won’t also lie that even ordinary people in the pier, we can see this behavior of our Filipino fishermen. Compared with the crushed corals they (Chinese) are dumping in the entire South China Sea, compared to the harvesting of giant clams and the destruction of corals to create artificial islands, what’s a Filipino peeing compared to what they are doing?” he asserted.

Tarriela maintained China could be overreacting to what he thought was a petty issue in the West Philippine Sea.

He also reported that 31 days since PCG’s biggest patrol vessel BRP Teresa Magbanua was sent to Escoda (Sabina) Shoal, China’s efforts to dump more crushed corals in the area ceased.

Amid the continuing aggression of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is seeking to reform and reorganize the PCG.

Gatchalian filed Senate Bill 2650 seeking to repeal Republic Act 9993, also known as the Philippine Coast Guard Law of 2009, and replace it with the Revised Philippine Coast Guard Law.

The senator said gaps in organizational structure, administration and ensuring personnel welfare have negatively impacted PCG operations. –  Cecille Suerte Felipe, Evelyn Macairan, Ghio Ong

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