Crusading Filipino fisherfolks, groups abandon second attempt in South China Sea

MANILA. In this image from a video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Filipino sailors look after a Chinese coast guard ship with bow number 5203 bumps their supply boat as they approach Second Thomas Shoal, locally called Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Sunday, October 22, 2023.
MANILA. In this image from a video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Filipino sailors look after a Chinese coast guard ship with bow number 5203 bumps their supply boat as they approach Second Thomas Shoal, locally called Ayungin Shoal, at the disputed South China Sea on Sunday, October 22, 2023.AP

A COALITION of crusading fishermen and their allies onboard some 100 wooden boats have backed off from their second attempt to inch much closer towards the Bajo de Masinloc, otherwise known as Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground secured by Chinese troops in the disputed South China Sea, on May 16.

On May 15, an advance team of the group under the “Atin Ito (This Is Ours)” coalition made a successful pass about 29 to 35 miles near the disputed shoal to distribute food and fuel supplies to Filipino fishers in the area.

"Despite China's massive blockade, we managed to breach their illegal blockade, reaching Bajo de Masinloc to support our fishers with essential supplies," Rafaela David, the head of the coalition, told the Philippine media on May 16.

"This stands as a testament to the ingenuity, resourcefulness and bravery of the Filipino spirit amidst formidable challenges," David added.

Aside from distributing the “crucial provisions” containing at least 200 food packs and some 1,000 liters of diesel to the Filipino fishers doing fishing activities in the disputed area, they also managed to install buoys with symbolic marks “WPS Atin Ito,” the Filipino journalists who covered the event and sailed with the advance team reported on May 15.

WPS is an acronym for the West Philippine Sea, which refers to Manila's claim of the maritime areas immediately west of the Philippines.

After their distribution, the advance team, composed of 10 people from youth and progressive groups, “had been chased away by the Chinese.”

As Filipino fishermen were also driven away in the shoal by the Chinese Coast Guard and militia, the coalition’s main contingent found no more reason in making their final round of supply assistance to them, prompting them to abandon their move.

The coalition’s mother boat then declared “mission accomplished” despite reaching only some 50 nautical miles away from the shoal as of the morning of May 16.

It was the nearest they could get as they were shadowed by Chinese ships.

"This stands as a testament to the ingenuity, resourcefulness and bravery of the Filipino spirit amidst formidable challenges," David said in a statement.

At least 43 Chinese-manned ships, including a warship, navigated to Scarborough Shoal to prevent the coalition from moving closer.

Posting on X (formerly Twitter) on the evening of May 15, former American Air Force official and ex-Defense Attaché Ray Powell reported that “China has finally moved the rest of its blockade into position.”

 The Chinese blockade force included eight China Coast Guard ships, one People's Liberation Army Navy ship, and other 34 Chinese militia boats which moved around the shoal “to intercept the Philippines civilian convoy.”

On April 30, Chinese Coast Guard ships blasted high-pressure water cannons at Philippine civilian vessels en route to the shoal.

Meanwhile, China issued a stern warning to the Philippines, saying: “If the Philippines abuses China’s goodwill and infringes upon China’s territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction, we will defend our rights and take countermeasures in accordance with the law.”

“Relevant responsibilities and consequences shall be borne solely by the Philippines,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wengbin during a press conference in Beijing on May 15.

According to Wengbin, the Huangyan Dao, or the Scarborough Shoal, “has always been China’s territory.”

“China has indisputable sovereignty over Huangyan Dao and its adjacent waters. China made a goodwill arrangement in 2016 for Filipino fishermen to fish with a small number of small fishing boats in the adjacent waters of Huangyan Dao, while China continues to oversee and monitor the relevant activities of the Filipino fishermen in accordance with law,” the Chinese official said.

The Philippines has long claimed Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, a ring-shaped coral reef which has several rocks encircling a lagoon, covering an area of 150 square kilometers, as “an integral part of the Philippine territory.”

“It is part of the Municipality of Masinloc, Province of Zambales. It is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales and is within the 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Philippine Continental Shelf,” the Philippine government said in its public journal and main publication, Official Gazette, in April 2012.

In the case of Bajo de Masinloc, the Philippines has exercised both effective occupation and effective jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc since its independence [from the Spanish occupation in June 1898], the Philippine public journal said.

“On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal adjudicating the Philippines’ case against China in the South China Sea ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines, determining that major elements of China’s claim—including its nine-dash line, recent land reclamation activities, and other activities in Philippine waters—were unlawful,” the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in a summary on South China Sea Arbitration Ruling. (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)

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