Smaller boat in ‘Atin Ito’ convoy completes mission to Lawak

Smaller boat in ‘Atin Ito’ convoy completes mission to Lawak

/ 05:30 AM December 12, 2023

CHOWEE / DECEMBER 10, 2023The ML Chowee loaded with donated gifts gets directive to go straight to Lawak Island. INQUIRER PHOTO / RICHARD A. REYES

The ML Chowee loaded with donated gifts gets a directive to go straight to Lawak Island.
(Photo by RICHARD A. REYES / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Although the flagship for the civilian-led Christmas caravan to bring gifts to Filipino troops stationed at remote outposts in the West Philippine Sea had to call off the mission after it was shadowed by Chinese vessels, one of the smaller boats in the convoy managed to make it to the group’s destination.

ML Chowee, a supply boat that took a different route than MV Kapitan Felix Oca, reached Lawak (Nanshan) Island at 5 a.m. on Monday, according to the Atin Ito (This is Ours) coalition. Due to its smaller size, it was able to avoid being harassed by Chinese ships.


“It was instructed to proceed to Lawak Island to deliver donations and supplies while Atin Ito’s main vessel was being shadowed and harassed by Chinese vessels,” the coalition said. “The main goal of the mission was to go there and drop off donations and goods, which it has successfully accomplished.”


Collaborative effort

The captain of MV Kapitan Felix Oca, the lead vessel for the Christmas convoy, deemed it “unsafe” to continue with the gift-giving mission after it was tailed by at least four Chinese vessels from 3:40 p.m. on Sunday.

The initiative, which was envisioned to be a collaborative effort among civil society, media, and government entities, saw the participation of more than 200 people — over 100 fishermen operating a 40-boat contingent, 20 youth and student leaders, 20 fisherfolk and other sectoral leaders and around 60 local and foreign journalists. It was meant to display a “whole of nation” initiative, underscoring the Filipino people’s united front in the West Philippine Sea, according to Atin Ito.

Change of plan

The original plan of organizers was for the MV Kapitan Felix Oca, which set sail from El Nido in Palawan province past midnight Sunday, to pass through the vicinity of Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal before proceeding to Lawak and Patag (Flat) Islands to deliver Christmas gifts donated by the public to Filipino troops.

But this was changed after tensions grew in Ayungin Shoal on Sunday morning when three Philippine vessels on a resupply mission were rammed and blasted with water cannons by Chinese vessels. One of the supply boats, the ML Kalayaan, had to be towed back to port after sustaining significant damage from the water cannon attack. Together with Unaizah May 1 and the Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Cabra, it was on its way to deliver food and other supplies to BRP Sierra Madre, which serves as the country’s military outpost in Ayungin.

The incident forced the Atin Ito convoy to skip the trip near Ayungin for safety reasons and head directly instead for Lawak and Patag Islands. But Chinese vessels shadowing the MV Kapitan Felix Oca near Kayumanggi Bank prompted the captain to scrap this plan as well and return to El Nido.

Akbayan president Rafaela David, the commander of the civilian mission, earlier expressed optimism despite the outcome, saying, “This marks the inaugural civilian-led mission, with many more to come. Our goal is to regularize and normalize the travel and movement of the Filipino people in this region. After all, it is ours.”

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TAGS: Atin Ito, maritime dispute, ML Chowee, PH-China Relations, West Philippine Sea, WPS Christmas convoy

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