PH civilian mission sets sail for Scarborough Shoal in WPS


Around 100 boats departed from Zambales early Wednesday morning for a civilian mission to Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

The mission was led by “Atin ‘To” (This is Ours) coalition and joined by a hundred volunteers including three foreign observers and journalists.

They reached the seas at around 10 a.m. some 14 nautical miles west of Masinloc, Zambales. They then installed symbolic markers

or buoys within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).


Members of the Atin Ito Coalition get ready to board boats in Zambales that would take them to Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. CHRISTIAN RAMOS/GMA Integrated News


“The primary objectives of the mission are to conduct a ‘peace and solidarity regatta’ within our EEZ, during which symbolic markers/buoys emblazoned with the rallying cry ‘WPS, Atin Ito!’ (WPS is ours!) will be placed to reinforce our country's territorial integrity,” Atin Ito co-convenor and Akbayan president Rafaela David earlier said.

Atin 'To also distributed gasoline and supplies fuel to Filipino fishermen in the area.

In a statement on Wednesday, David said the civilian supply mission comprises five commercial fishing vessels and 100 smaller fishing boats.


Filipino fishermen manning small fishing boats in Masinloc, Zambales prepare to join the civilian boats taking part in the mission to reach Bajo de Masinloc organized by Atin Ito Coalition on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. DANNY PATA


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

Among the organizations that participated in the civilian mission are:

  • New Masinloc Fishermen’s Associations
  • Subic Commercial Fishing Association Incorporated
  • Mabayo Agri Aqua Association in Bataan
  • Pambansang Katipunan ng Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK)
  • Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA)
  • Center for Agrarian Reform, Empowerment and Transformation (CARET)
  • Akbayan Youth
  • Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP)

“The world is watching, and the narrative of rightful ownership and peaceful assertion is clearly on our side,” Edicio Dela Torre of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) said. 


'Huge force'

The civilian mission proceeded despite reports of an alleged “huge force” of Chinese vessels heading to Scarborough Shoal.

Former US Air Force official and ex-Defense 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 on X (formerly Twitter)

“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.

David reiterated that the "peaceful" civilian mission—which is set to end on May 17, Friday—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.

"China's actions in the West Philippine Sea reveal not strength, but a glaring weakness. When it resorts to intimidating small, civilian fishing vessels with military might, it showcases a narrative built on fear rather than legitimate authority," added David.


A civilian convoy of a hundred Filipino fishermen sailed from Zambales to the West Philippine Sea in a show of force to assert ownership amid Chinese presence and aggression in the area on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. JOSEPH MORONG


Scarborough Shoal

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said it  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,” PCG spokesperson for WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela said.

(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.)

Atin Ito held its first civilian mission to WPS with 40 participating boats in 2023.

Scarborough Shoal is a place of tension between the Philippines and China, as Filipino frontliners were harassed and fishers were shooed away by China in the area.

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. —KG/RSJ/ VAL, GMA Integrated News