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Atin Ito: China's threats to jail WPS trespassers a desperate move

Atin Ito: China's threats to jail WPS trespassers a 'desperate move'

A civilian group which recently went to Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) denounced on Saturday China's threat to detain foreigners trespassing in the South China Sea.

“China’s threats on so-called trespassers in the West Philippine Sea are a clear indication of their desperation," Akbayan president and Atin Ito Coalition co-convenor Rafaela David said in a statement.

"It is China which is trespassing in our seas. These threats are not only a violation of international law but also an admission by China that our peaceful, civilian-led initiatives are effective and winning the hearts and minds of many in the global community," she added.

China has issued a regulation empowering its coast guard to detain foreigners trespassing in the South China Sea following the Philippine civilian mission led by Atin Ito Coalition to the WPS that ended on Friday.

The China Coast Guard (CCG) can detain trespassers without trial, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday, citing a regulatory document of Beijing set to take effect in June.

"Foreigners suspected of illegally passing China's borders can be held for up to 60 days," according to the media report.

GMA News Online has sought comment from the Chinese Embassy in Manila about the regulation but it has yet to respond as of posting time.

On Wednesday morning, around 200 volunteers and 100 fishermen aboard five wooden bancas and 100 smaller boats set sail from Masinloc in Zambales for the civilian mission to Scarborough Shoal, also called Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in WPS.

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, despite the blockade of Chinese vessels.

“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.

Symbolic markers were also successfully placed on Wednesday within the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) during the civilian mission.

The buoys were emblazoned with the words "WPS ATIN ITO!" or "WPS is ours!" in Filipino.

“China's attempt to intimidate and deter Filipino citizens from exercising their rightful activities in the WPS will not succeed. Instead, it further galvanizes our resolve to stand up for our rights and freedoms,” David said.

The group also called on the international community to condemn China for its aggressive tactics.

“The international community must recognize and condemn these aggressive tactics by China, which are designed to stifle legitimate civilian movements and maintain their militarized presence in the WPS," David 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 EEZ 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, GMA Integrated News