West Philippine Sea

Atin Ito plans another try at civilian mission to West Philippine Sea

Bea Cupin

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Atin Ito plans another try at civilian mission to West Philippine Sea

ATIN ITO. Volunteers of the Atin Ito coalition, which organized the Christmas convoy to the West Philippine Sea to honor Filipino frontliners in the area, organize the supplies were supposed to bring on December 9, 2023.


This time, the organizers are eyeing a mission to Bajo de Masinloc

MANILA, Philippines – The coalition that tried to lead a civilian mission to features in the West Philippine Sea in late 2023 is going at it again, this time planning a mission to Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc which may include international observers.

Atin Ito – composed of Akbayan Party, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA), Center for Agrarian Reform for Empowerment and Transformation (CARET), Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK), Akbayan Youth, and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) – made the announcement on Thursday, March 14. 

“We are still in the process of coordinating with relevant authorities and stakeholders, but initially, Bajo de Masinloc has been identified as a potential destination,” said Akbayan president Rafaela David, also a co-convenor of Atin Ito.

Bajo de Masinloc is a high-tide elevation that’s considered the traditional fishing ground of Filipino, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese fisherfolk. The CCG routinely places barriers to block the opening of the shoal, preventing fisherfolk – particularly, Filipinos – from entering its traditionally bountiful and safe waters.

Philippine government missions to Bajo de Masinloc are usually meant to delivery supplies – food and gas, especially – to fisherfolk who stay in the open sea for weeks at a time.

Atin Ito’s first mission to the West Philippine Sea in December 2023 was meant to deliver supplies to various Philippine Coast Guard and military outposts in those waters. Supplies were eventually delivered, after a smaller vessels with mostly supplies on board squeaked past Chinese vessels patrolling the area. 

“While our primary objectives remain unchanged – to deliver essential supplies to our fisherfolk in the area and normalize civilian navigation in the West Philippine Sea – this prospective next mission is unique in that it will possibly include a delegation of international observers to witness, monitor, and report on the ongoing harassment suffered by Filipinos from trespassing Chinese vessels,” added David.

The first mission was dramatic even before it left land for the West Philippine Sea. Security officials had initially resisted the plan, only to express its support for it later once they agreed that the civilian convoy would only pass by the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II that was run aground on purpose in 1999 and now serves as a military outpost in Ayungin Shoal.  

Ayungin Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc are just over 100 nautical miles off the Philippine mainland. Ayungin is over 100 nautical miles from Palawan, while Bajo de Masinloc is over 100 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales. Both are flashpoints of tensions between the Philippines and China, which claims practically all of the South China Sea as its territory, in defiance of international law and a 2016 arbitral ruling. 

Tensions in the West Philippine Sea were already high in December 2023. They have gotten worse since. 

In early March 2024, CCG ships used two water cannons against a Navy-contracted ship, shattering the civilian boat’s wind shield. Water cannons and collision have become far-too-common occurrences whenever China tries to block, harass, or deter Philippine vessels. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.