Home China Philippines Civilian Group Atin Ito Claims ‘Major Victory’ Over Disputed Shoal

Philippines Civilian Group Atin Ito Claims ‘Major Victory’ Over Disputed Shoal

The three-day mission, led by a group called Atin Ito (This is Ours) along with four commercial fishing vessels, was coordinated to deliver provisions to Filipino fishermen anchored at the shoal, organisers said.
Atin Ito celebrates successful mission
A screen-grab from a social media video shows a jubilant Atin Ito (This is Ours) co-convenor Rafaela David declaring the civilian mission a success after their advance party breached massive and illegal blockade of China at the Scarborough Shoal. (Atin Ito Coalition)

MANILA/BEIJING: A Philippine group leading a civilian supply mission in the South China Sea delivered food and fuel to Filipino fishermen despite being shadowed by Chinese vessels, its officials said on Thursday, calling it a “major victory”.

A 10-member team was sent by the Atin Ito (This is Ours) group to the Scarborough Shoal a day ahead of a commercial flotilla of five commercial vessels and 100 small fishing boats that departed on May 15. Ultimately, the rest of the flotilla turned back without reaching the shoal.

“The mission achieved a major victory when its advance team reached the vicinity of Panatag Shoal on May 15 (and) was able to supply the fishers in the area,” said Emman Hizon, Atin Ito spokesperson, using the local name of Scarborough.

Located inside Manila’s 200 nautical-mile (370km) exclusive economic zone, the Scarborough Shoal is coveted for its bountiful fish stocks and a turquoise lagoon that provides safe haven for vessels during storms.

China claims sovereignty over the shoal and almost all the South China Sea, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, despite a 2016 ruling by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration that found its sweeping claims have no legal basis.

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China’s state news agency Xinhua said the Chinese coast guard on Thursday “intensified on-site surveillance and evidence collection” after Philippine vessels “illegally gathered” in waters near Scarborough Shoal and engaged in activities “unrelated to normal fishing operations”.

The Chinese coast guard has “regulated the Philippine vessels at the scene in accordance with the law,” it added.

Calling the mission a “publicity stunt”, Yuyuan Tantian, a social media user affiliated with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, said the Philippine vessels “stopped moving forward at nearly 60 nautical miles in the waters east of Huangyan Island and has now departed,” it added.

Hizon told Reuters the advance team was part of the group’s contingency plan in case China blocked the main flotilla, which he said would make its way back to port on Thursday after having sailed to a point about 50 nautical miles from the shoal.

Hizon said the larger flotilla was not needed because the fishermen, already supplied by the advance team, left the area after being driven away by Chinese vessels.

A Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) aircraft deployed to monitor the situation at Scarborough Shoal on Wednesday spotted 19 Chinese vessels, including one Chinese navy ship, in the area. The PCG said it was also monitoring two floating barriers at the southeastern entrance of the shoal.

The PCG was not part of the mission, but deployed vessels to provide safety and security for the civilian volunteers. The PCG said two Chinese Coast Guard ships shadowed Atin Ito boats.

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In a career spanning three decades and counting, I’ve been the foreign editor of The Telegraph, Outlook Magazine and the New Indian Express. I helped set up rediff.com’s editorial operations in San Jose and New York, helmed sify.com, and was the founder editor of India.com. My work has featured in national and international publications like the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, Global Times and Ashahi Shimbun. My one constant over all these years, however, has been the attempt to understand rising India’s place in the world. I can rustle up a mean salad, my oil-less pepper chicken is to die for, and it just takes some beer and rhythm and blues to rock my soul.