West Philippine Sea

‘Active citizenship’: Civilian group to hold Panatag Shoal mission 


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‘Active citizenship’: Civilian group to hold Panatag Shoal mission 

ATIN ITO. Retired justice Antonio Carpio and retired vice admiral Rommel Ong join convenors of the Atin Ito coalition on May 8.

Atin Ito

Convenors of the Atin Ito coalition advocate for ‘active citizenship’ as the Philippines asserts its rights and claims in the West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – Civic society groups under Atin Ito will push through with a civilian-led mission to Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, two weeks after China’s water cannons damaged government ships during a mission to the same area. 

Atin Ito, a coalition that counts fisher and farmer groups, civic organizations, fisherfolk, and youth activists among its members, will travel to Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) from May 14 to 17 to bring supplies for fisherfolk whose livelihoods depend on access to the shoal. 

National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea spokesperson and National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said the task force “has no objections to the planned civilian mission to support our fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc.” 

Akbayan president Rafaela David, one of the lead convenors of the coalition, in a press conference on Wednesday, May 8: “This is not a sightseeing excursion to seek out Chinese marine vessels or a provocation to incite conflict. It is a legitimate exercise of Filipino citizens within our own territory. Our approach is grounded in reclaiming what rightfully belongs to us, guided by international law and diplomatic principles.”

David was joined by co-convenor Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement president Edicio dela Torre, retired senior Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, retired read admiral Rommel Ong, Kalibo Mayor Juris Sucro, Father Robert Reyes, as well as fisherfolk, farmers’ groups, and youth leaders from various collectives.

The last time the group went to the West Philippine Sea in December 2023, they were supposed to bringing supplies to military and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) outposts in the Spratlys. The main vessel, which had volunteers and media on board, turned back after “constant shadowing” from Chinese ships. 

This time, the recipients of the mission will be fisherfolk in the resource-rich shoal. 

Panatag Shoal is a high-tide feature that’s just over 120 nautical miles away from Zambales, or well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

While its sovereignty remains disputed, at least two China Coast Guard ships are deployed inside its lagoon at all times. China Coast Guard vessels also regularly patrol its vicinity, barring Filipino fisherfolk from entering the shoal’s lagoon. 

The shoal, according to the 2016 arbitral ruling, is the traditional fishing grounds of Filipino, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Chinese fisherfolk. 

The group will also deploy “symbolic buoys” bearing the message “WPS, Atin Ito!” (The West Philippine Sea is ours) in the vicinity of the shoal. About 200 participants are expected to join the mission, among them fisherfolk, volunteers, journalists, and observers. 

Tensions in the West Philippine Sea, or parts of the South China Sea that includes the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, continue to rise. PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela earlier said that with the April 30 water cannoning of PCG and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ships, China had “elevated” the already tense situation. – Rappler.com

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