China sending 'huge force' to Scarborough Shoal ahead of PH civilian mission —maritime expert

By JOVILAND RITA,GMA Integrated News

China is sending a “huge force” allegedly to seal off Scarborough Shoal ahead of the Philippines’ civilian mission to the area, a United States maritime expert said on Monday. 

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), former US Air Force official and ex-Defence Attaché Ray Powell said this will be the “largest blockade” in Scarborough Shoal he has seen. 

“China is sending a huge force to blockade Scarborough Shoal ahead of the Atin Ito civilian convoy setting sail from the Philippines Tuesday. By this time tomorrow at least four coast guard and 26 large maritime militia ships on blockade (not counting 'dark' vessels),” he said. 

“This will be by far the largest blockade I'll have ever tracked at Scarborough. China seems determined to aggressively enforce its claim over the shoal, of which it seized control from the Philippines in 2012 as summarized by AsiaMTI,” he added.

'Safe forecast'

Sought for comment in an interview on Dobol B TV, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said that Powell’s report is a “safe forecast.”

“Well, that is a possibility na masabi natin na siguro kung 'yan talaga ang tinutukoy ng AIS-assisted signals ng mga barkong ito, that would be a safe forecast,” he said.

(Well, that is a possibility that we can say, maybe if that is what the AIS-assisted signals of these ships are really referring to, that would be a safe forecast.)

Tarriela said the PCG will ensure the safety of the participants of the civilian mission amid the presence of Chinese vessels in Scarborough Shoal. 

“For the PCG, ang mandato natin siguraduhing ligtas ang mga gagamit ng karagatan as a maritime mandate of the Coast Guard. So as far as the Coast Guard is concerned, that is the only thing we are only focusing into na siguraduhing malayang makakapaglayag ang ating mga kasamahan sa Atin Ito Coalition,” he added. 

(For the PCG, our mandate is to ensure the safety of those who use the sea as our maritime mandate. So as far as the Coast Guard is concerned, that is the only thing we are only focusing into to make sure that our colleagues in the Atin Ito Coalition can sail freely.)

GMA News Online has asked the Philippine Navy about the report, but it has yet to respond as of posting time. 

Mission to push through

In a statement, Atin Ito, the organizers of the civilian mission,  said they will push through with their activity


despite the reported huge presence of Chinese vessels.

Rafaela David, co-convenor of the coalition, said they "shall press forward with our peaceful voyage undeterred by any intimidation."

"We will sail with determination, not provocation, to civilianize the region and safeguard our territorial integrity," she added.

David, who is also Akbayan president, reiterated that the "peaceful" civilian mission set from May 14 to 17 is a legitimate exercise of Filipino citizens' rights and Philippine sovereign rights based on international law.

"The reported heavy presence of Chinese marine vessels in Bajo de Masinloc is lamentable, but not surprising. It only underscores the urgency of civilianizing the area in response to China's militarization," David said.

100 boats

Around 100 boats will join the second civilian mission to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) that aims to conduct a “peace and solidarity regatta” and install markers or buoys in Scarborough Shoal, which is locally known as Bajo de Masinloc.

Despite China’s recent water cannon attacks in the area, Atin Ito said the civilian mission will proceed.

Bajo de Masinloc is a place of tension between the Philippines and China. On April 30, the PCG said Chinese Coast vessels fired water cannons at Philippine civilian vessels en route to the shoal.

The water attacks had caused damage to Philippine vessels. 

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion in annual ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Manila calls parts of the waters within its exclusive economic zone as West Philippine Sea.

In 2016, an international arbitration tribunal in the Hague ruled that China's claims over South China Sea has no legal basis, a decision Beijing does not recognize. —KBK, GMA Integrated News