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PH Atin Ito mission proceeds to Panatag despite China presence

The civilian convoy mission to help fishermen and place symbolic buoys in the West Philippine Sea has so far been successful, according to a 24 Oras report by Joseph Morong who is traveling with the group.

The Atin Ito Coalition behind the flotilla of small vessels and watercraft said they were not intimidated by the growing number of Chinese vessels in the Panatag Shoal where they are headed.

The civilian mission is challenging China’s claim in the West Philippine Sea.

Around 100 fishermen aboard five wooden bancas set sail from Masinloc in Zambales on Wednesday morning en route to Panatag Shoal, which is what Filipinos call Scarborough Shoal or the Bajo de Masinloc.

But regardless what the shoal is called, it is considered Philippine territory by those involved in the mission. To them, only Filipinos have the right to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Around 10 a.m., the crew of the BRP Bagacay, a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel, spotted the mission as it was distributing supplies in the open ocean to fisherfolk from coastal communities along the Zambales coast. The Bagacay and another PCG ship were assigned to escort the group to ensure its safety.

“Meron po tayong mga partner na fisherfolk.. Bibigyan naman lahat kahit yung nasa vicinity ng Scarborough, we don’t know how many are out there but hopefully our supplies last,” said Rafaela David, co-convenor of the Atin Ito and Akbayan Party president.

Aside from giving out supplies, the group laid out 12 symbolic orange buoys painted with the words “WPS ATIN ITO!” (The West Philippine Sea Is Ours!).

No Chinese ships were spotted this morning but that will soon change as the group nears Panatag Shoal.

In the past several  months, the area has witnessed several harassment from China on Filipino vessels, with the most recent being a water cannon attack on a PCG craft that resulted in damage and injury.

Waiting in Panatag Shoal

According to maritime observers, satellite imagery revealed the Chinese have increased the number of ships in Panatag Shoal to at least a dozen.

Despite this, the group said they will not be intimidated by this show of force while intending not to provoke China.

“Alam naman natin na iniintimidate tayo ng China patuloy. Imagine sa harap ng mga wooden fishing vessel mga coast guard and ihaharap niya. Very disproportionate.. Sisiguraduhin pa rin natin na safe pa rin ang ating mission,” David said.

(We all know China has been trying to intimidate us. Imagine facing a wooden fishing vessel with their coast guard. Very disproportionate… We will make sure the safety of the mission.)

She added, “Klaro naman sa atin ang nagdadala doon ng armas ang nagmimilitarize ng area ay China. Tayong mga Pilipino ang dala natin ay regalo, food supplies at fuel. And it's a legitimate exercise in our exclusive economic zone.”

(It’s clear to us that China is the one bringing arms and militarizing the area. Filipinos bring gifts, food supplies and fuel.)

GMA Integrated News has reached out to Chinese officials for comment.

The Philippine Coast Guard, meanwhile, said it is observing developments.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson, said, “I think it’s a wrong lens to see that the civil society is the one provoking China.This is a civil society movement and they are just enjoying what is written on the international law and what is entitled to them as a Filipino people.”

To ensure the mission’s safety, the PCG has assigned two escorts to protect the convoy.

“Dahil dito sa maraming deployment ng China para harangin ang Atin Ito Coalition sa kanilang paglalayag, ang ating commandant has decided to deploy two more coast guard vessels para siguraduhin, na kung sakali man, wag naman sana, there would be untoward incident na mangyayari rito ay mayroon tayong coast guard,” Tarriela said.

(In response to the large Chinese deployment to block the Atin ito Coalition on their missions, the commandant has decided to deploy two more coast guard vessels to ensure there would be no untoward incidents.) 

The group expects to reach the Panatag Shoal at dawn on Thursday.—RF, GMA Integrated News