WPS civilian mission 'victorious' despite Chinese vessels presence

By JOVILAND RITA, GMA Integrated News

Atin Ito on Friday claimed "victory" in its civilian mission to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as it ended "generally peaceful" despite the presence of Chinese vessels in the area. 

The group made the statement after around 100 boats carrying the participants safely returned to the Subic fishport in Zamabales.

“Generally peaceful and victorious despite China's unlawful presence in the area, accompanied by its vessels' acts of harassment and intimidation, and its massive and illegal blocking force in Panatag Shoal,” Emman Hizon, one of the organizers, told reporters in a message.



The advance team of the Philippine civilian mission was able to break through the blockade of Chinese vessels and reached Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc) on Wednesday.

Atin Ito co-convenor and Akbayan president Rafaela David earlier said, "Despite China's massive blockade, we managed to breach their illegal blockade, reaching Bajo de Masinloc to support our fishers with essential supplies. Mission accomplished!" 

"This stands as a testament to the ingenuity, resourcefulness and bravery of the Filipino spirit amidst formidable challenges.”

Around 200 volunteers and 100 fishermen aboard five wooden bancas and 100 smaller boats set sail from Masinloc in Zambales on Wednesday morning for Panatag Shoal.

But a day before the official start of the civilian mission, an advance team set sail on Tuesday, according to Atin Ito.

The advance team arrived 25 to 30 nautical miles of the general vicinity of Scarborough Shoal on Wednesday.

“They swiftly delivered crucial provisions, including fuel and food, to Filipino fishers working in the area. Their efforts resulted in the distribution of 1,000 liters of diesel and 200 food packs,” the organizer said.


The crew of the F/B John fishing vessel wave a Philippine flag as they acknowledge the presence of the Philippine Coast Guard during the Atin Ito second civilian mission to Bajo de Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday, May 16, 2024. DANNY PATA


For Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson for the WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela, China was “paranoid” considering its large deployment and security layers of vessels in Panatag Shoal.

“Kakaiba yung ginawa nila. There were 10 CCG vessels. Ibang layer of security ang ginawa nila na malapit sa Shoal. Another layer na 30 nautical miles. And then, another layer na from 40 to 45 NM,” he told reporters in an interview.

(What they did was strange. There were 10 CCG vessels. They created another layer of security near the Shoal. Another layer of 30 nautical miles. And then another layer from 40 to 45 NM.)


“Ibig sabihin, they were really paranoid and convinced doon sa sarili nilang kasinungalingan na itong Filipino fishing boats ana pinadala natin dito ay sanctioned ng national government and we're going to stir up more trouble in Bajo de Masinloc,” he added.

(China was really paranoid and convinced of their own lies that these Filipino fishing boats that we sent were sanctioned by the national government and we're going to stir up more trouble in Bajo de Masinloc.)

Tarriela described China’s deployment of vessels as an “overkill.” The PCG monitored around 10 Chinese Coast Guard ships, eight Chinese maritime militia vessels, and one People's Liberation Army Navy ship in the shoal during the mission.

Panatag Shoal

Meanwhile, the main convoy of the civilian mission no longer proceeded to Panatag Shoal because Chinese vessels already drove away the fishermen who were supposed to receive another round of supplies there.

"Our boat captains got report na wala na raw mga Pinoy na mangingisda sa Bajo de Masinloc ngayon kasi pinapaalis sila ng mga Chinese Coast Guard, militia, at iba pang mga marine vessels," one of the organizers, Emman Hizon, told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

(Our boat captains got a report that there are no more Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc now because the Chinese Coast Guard, militia, and other marine vessels drove them away.)

"So there is no point of going near, yung main convoy, because it is no longer there (So there is no point for the main convoy to go near Scarborough Shoal because the fishermen are no longer there)," he added.

On Thursday, former US Air Force official and former Defense Attaché Ray Powell, who is monitoring the situation in the WPS, said 43 Chinese vessels, including a warship, moved to Scarborough Shoal to block the Filipino civilian mission.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Powell said there were one People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy ship, eight China Coast Guard vessels, and 34 Chinese militia vessels  around Scarborough Shoal.

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

Place of tension

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wengbin earlier warned the Philippines regarding its activities in the area.

“If the Philippines abuses China’s goodwill and infringes upon China’s territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction, we will defend our rights and take countermeasures in accordance with the law,” he said in a press conference in Beijing.

“Relevant responsibilities and consequences shall be borne solely by the Philippines,” he added.

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. —VAL, GMA Integrated News