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MANILA, Philippines – In a move to both honor Filipinos who bear the brunt of China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea and assert that ordinary Filipinos should be able to sail freely through its waters, a coalition of groups is planning a December “supply mission” to Ayungin Shoal.
Atin Ito is a coalition composed of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), the Center for Agrarian Reform for Empowerment and Transformation (CARET), Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama), Team Manila Lifestyle, concerned artists, Akbayan Party, and Akbayan Youth.
On Monday, October 2, the coalition formally launched the project, which includes a monthslong donation drive, a concert, as well as a “Christmas convoy and civilian supply mission” to Ayungin Shoal to “deliver some of the donated items to the stationed frontliners in order to improve their living conditions and operational capabilities.”
Ayungin is where the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II ship purposely ran aground in 1999, is stationed. Manned by a few Philippine Marines, the dilapidated former warship serves as the Philippines’ outpost in the West Philippine Sea.
It’s also been the flashpoint, among many, of tensions between Manila and Beijing.
In early August, China Coast Guard ships used water cannons against the Philippine Coast Guard and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)-commissioned ships en route to Ayungin for a resupply mission. While that mission was disrupted, two subsequent resupply missions were successful – although those, too, were met with harassment from both the China Coast Guard and Chinese Maritime Militia.
The coalition, however, needs two things to go smoothly for the mission to push through: pleasant weather in December and the go-signal from the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.
Akbayan president Rafaela David urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to support the planned mission.
“As Filipinos, we have the right to move freely within our country, and this right is protected by our constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. China has no standing in the WPS,” she said.
Don’t forget the fisherfolk
Edicio dela Torre, president of the PRRM, said fishing communities should not be left behind even as the Philippines becomes more assertive in defending the West Philippine Sea. It’s Filipino fisherfolk who’ve oftentimes been helpless witnesses and victims of China’s harassment even within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Filipino fisherfolk have reported a dramatic decrease in their catch in the West Philippine Sea as a result of harassment from Chinese vessels. In late September 2023, for instance, the Philippine Coast Guard caught China Coast Guard ships installing a floating barrier across the opening of Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal, located just off the coast of Zambales.
In a “special operation,” the Philippine Coast Guard cut down the barrier and took away one of the anchors that was holding it down just a day after first announcing the new case of harassment. Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough shoal, according to a 2016 arbitral tribunal, is an international commons because it’s the traditional fishing area of fisherfolk from the Philippines, China, and even Vietnam. No country can bar entry to fisherfolk who show up for small-scale fishing.
The day that barrier was cut down, Filipino fisherfolk were able to bring home some 160 tons of fish.
Rene Cerilla of Pakisama said the drive aims to alleviate the hardships of fisherfolk communities.
“Kung sila ay hinahampas ng daluyong sa karagatan at halos malubog, tulungan po natin silang makaahon naman sa kahirapan dito sa pampang ng dagat,” he said. (At sea, they are battered by waves and face the danger of sinking. It’s our hope to help them rise from poverty when they reach the shore.)
Communities in Zambales, Palawan, Mindoro, and Batangas will be beneficiaries of the project.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, one of two minority members in the Senate, also urged the Philippines to pursue a case against China and make it pay for the reported damage it has caused in the West Philippine Sea’s marine ecosystem.
Other beneficiaries of the project include “frontliners” stationed in the West Philippine Sea – the Philippine Coast Guard and AFP soldiers, among others.
The coalition is planning a Christmas concert, where people can drop off nonmonetary donations in exchange for admission. Streetwear brand Team Manila, known for producing a West Philippine Sea shirt years back, is also releasing a new design to “help raise awareness” on issues concerning Filipino fisherfolk.
Organizers are asking for nonmonetary donations, including, but not limited to:
- canned goods (except canned fish items)
- long-sleeved shirts
- bucket hats
- medical supplies (over-the-counter medication, antibiotic ointment, alcohol)
Donations may be dropped off at the following locations:
- Team Manila Lifestyle – Suez Street corner Zapote, Makati City
- PRRM – 56 Mother Ignacia Street corner Dr. Lazcano Street, Quezon City
- Akbayan Party – 23 Maalindog Street, UP Village, Quezon City
- CARET – Unit 213 Eagle Court Condominium, 26 Matalino Street, Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City