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Saturday, May 18, 2024

‘Atin Ito’ sets sail for Panatag shoal

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PCG, Navy vessels to secure civilian mission amid China threat

Over a hundred fishermen and volunteers will depart today from Botolan, Zambales as part of the second civilian mission to the West Philippine Sea—armed with courage, love of country, and a statue of the Stella Maris amid warnings that China sending its largest blockade ever to Scarborough Shoal.

At least five main commercial fishing vessels and some 100 fishing boats will join the mission that aims to deploy buoys bearing the message “West Philippine Sea Atin Ito” as well as bring fuel rations and food packs to fisherfolk in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.

Fr. Robert Reyes, who carried with him a statue of the Stella Maris, also known as the “Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea,” led a send-off mass Tuesday evening for the convoy.

Fisherman Roberto Ballon, who came all the way from Zamboanga, was armed with the belief that China’s aggressive actions might expand to other areas if they are left unchecked in the West Philippine Sea.

“Kapag hindi napigilan [ang China] dito, baka samin na sa Moro Gulf sa Zamboanga Peninsula. Baka kami na ang kasunod (If we do no stop China here, they might go next to the Moro Gulf in Zamboanga Peninsula. We might be next),” he told ABS-CBN in an interview.

Atin Ito co-convenor Rafaela David said the convoy, which is set to end its three-day voyage on Friday, will try to avoid any contact with Chinese fishing vessels to prevent a repeat of a water cannon attack.

“This second mission will invoke the spirit of bayanihan of ordinary people, arms linked, peacefully standing against Chinese bullying,” she said in an ANC interview.

“We will make sure it does not reach a point where we will be attacked with water cannons by China,” she added.

Still, the Philippine Coast Guard is taking precaution, deploying a 44-meter vessel to serve as security escort to the civilian mission, Commodore Jay Tarriela said.

The Philippine Navy is also sending one of its ships to monitor the convoy

“The PCG is in close contact with for safety of lives at sea issues,” Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said.

“Without giving details on the distances, yes (we will follow them)… I don’t want to give the details of how close,” he added.

Trinidad also commended the organizers of Atin Ito.

“This is civil society showing that they understand the issue. It is not only a government approach but a whole of nation approach. China should respect civil society in exercising Philippine rights,” he said.

Ex-US Air Force official and former defense attaché Ray Powell warned China will be sending a “huge force” of “at least four coast guard and 26 large maritime militia ships” to block the Atin Ito convoy.

“(China) seems determined to aggressively enforce its claim over the shoal (by sending) by far the largest blockade I’ll have ever tracked at Scarborough,” Powell said.

“As the sun rises on 14 May, China’s forces are arrayed to the east, northwest and southwest of Scarborough Shoal, waiting to see what develops of the Philippine’s Atin Ito! convoy,” he added.

For her part, Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday cautioned China against interfering with the civilian supply mission, underscoring that Filipinos must be allowed to freely navigate within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“Not one of the ‘Atin Ito’ participants should be harassed or intimidated. Not one of our compatriots should fear for their safety,” the senator said.

“As Filipinos, they have the right to sail in the EEZ of the Philippines,” Hontiveros added.

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