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PALAWAN, Philippines – As the sun was setting on the second Sunday of Advent, December 10, four Chinese vessels appeared one by one over the horizon while the first Christmas convoy was passing through the waters near Ayungin Shoal. Most civilian volunteers were on the main deck of the mission ship attending a Holy Mass when the Atin Ito organizers had to interrupt to announce that the mission was aborted.
The announcement that the mission was called off was too much to bear for Akbayan youth Kaycee Esguerra. She felt defeated and burst into tears.
“Paano po yung mga taong umaasa sa amin? Paano yung mga taong naghihintay sa amin sa mga dala namin? They are expecting us,” 19-year old Kaycee said in tears.
(How about the people who were hoping for us? How about those who were waiting for us and what we would bring? They are expecting us.)
“Hindi na nakakatakot pero nakakalungkot.”
(It is no longer scary, rather sad.)
With that announcment, the Atin Ito civilian convoy was unable to complete its mission to bring Christmas cheer to the fisherfolk and front liners in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
The convoy was expected to arrive in the vicinity of Ayungin Shoal and reach Lawak island by December 11. However, the plan kept changing throughout the journey.
There were total of 104 civilians, comprised of youth and organization leaders and volunteers, fisherfolk, indigenous people, including journalists, onboard the MV Kapitan Felix Oca, the mother ship of the civilian flotilla.
The mother ship left El Nido, Palawan in the dead of night on December 9 for a supposed three-day voyage. Its goal: to bring Christmas cheer to the front liners and fisherfolk at sea.
Two navy ships, one coast guard, and a commercial vessel tried to shadow and tail the main ship of the Atin Ito civil group.
The captain of the ship, Jorge dela Cruz, apologized for aborting the mission and said he made the decision to go back to El Nido, Palawan for the safety of all the guests on board. He added that the Philippines and China must consider peace talks.
“I feel the tension from the movement of the vessels around us. Tension will likely happen. They have that definitive action that they are really coming towards us and fire us with water,” Dela Cruz said.
“I’m sorry if we can no longer continue the mission for safety reasons. Truth is, my boss doesn’t want us to leave (El Nido) for safety. But we carried on. I also want to feel the tension, so it’s real. So there is some tension when it comes to WPS. I think it’s about time for a peace talk between the two countries,” said DelaCruz.
Mauriene Ignacio, president of Samahan ng Mabayo Agri-Aqua Association, said they also wanted to fight for the WPS on behalf of the fisherfolk across the country.
Ignacio said the impact on their livelihood of the presence of Chinese vessels in Philippine waters has been significant. Particularly, it has affected the fish they harvest, as well as, their income. They now earn just P2,000, lower than what used to be at least P5,000, since the Chinese commercial fishing vessels have penetrated their usual fishing waters.
“Ang unang apektado sa usapin ng WPS ay kami na maliit at malaking mangingisda. Nandiyan sa WPS ang mga magagandang isda. Maganda talaga ang kita namin pag dun kami nangisda,” said Ignacio.
(The first one to be affected on the issue of WPS is us, the small and large fishermen. The beautiful fishes are in the WPS. Are income was really good whenever we fished there.)
“Imbes na dun kami maglalambat, lalayo pa kami papuntang south tapos lalaki ang aming konsumo. Imbes na sana partihin na ng mga tao ang kita, nahahati pati yung benta.”
(Instead of us fishing there, we need to sail farther south then our (fuel) consumption increases. Instead of splitting the income between us fishermen, we also need to split the sales.)
Ignacio believes that if China continues to claim the waters of the WPS, their livelihood loss would be irrecoverable.
One of the indigenous people on board the ship, Marcelino Tena, said aborting the mission signified a bigger impact on the next mission.
Tena said the dispute on Kaliwa Dam does not differ from the dispute on the West Philippine Sea as the fight at sea is as important as the fight on land.
“Okay lang naman. Ang pag atras ay hindi yan kahulugan na natakot tayo. Sa pag atras natin nalaman na mas malaki yung impact sa dadating pa,” said Tena.
(It’s okay. This fallback did not mean that we were scared. Through this retreat we will know that the impact will be great.)
“Ito ang yaman ng bansa natin. Suportahan ang mga katutubo at usapin na ginagawa sa pagsakop ng China. Dapat talaga magkaisa ang mamamayang Pilipino para wag tayo pagharian.”
(This is the wealth of our country. Support the indigenous people and issues on Chinese presence. The Filipinos need to unite, so they won’t dominate us.)
Akbayan president Rafaela David considers the inaugural mission a successful demonstration of courage and solidarity among the youth and volunteers.
She also said the plan to bring the other batch of essential supplies for the fisherfolk and front liners through the other boat, ML Chowee, have reached Lawak island on Sunday.
“It is still a major feat. It’s a courageous mission where we have proven how united we can be as we continue asserting that the West Philippine Sea is really ours,” David said.
Built in 1968, the maritime vehicle Kapitan Felix Oca is a training ship with a 266-passenger capacity.
The ship’s cabins, despite lack of proper ventilation, became temporary rooms of the passengers that could accommodate six passengers. The ship also has its own conference room, a kitchen, and dining hall, as well as communal toilets and shower rooms.
Under the command of Dela Cruz, together with his crew and training cadets, and one Philippine Coast Guard vessel that escorted the main ship throughout the voyage, the first attempt of the civilian-led supply mission end without any casualty or confrontation. – Rappler.com