‘Hope for best, prepared for worst’: Scarborough civilian convoy starts

‘Hope for best, prepared for worst’: Scarborough civilian convoy starts

/ 07:26 AM May 15, 2024

The civilian convoy for the West Philippine Sea officially embarked on a voyage to Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal early Wednesday morning in a mission feared to witness China’s another attempt to spoil the activity.

Small fishing boats assemble in the port of Barangay Matalvis in Masinloc town, Zambales, to participate in the civilian convoy in Scarborough Shoal. INQUIRER.net/John Eric Mendoza

MASINLOC, Zambales — The civilian convoy for the West Philippine Sea officially embarked on a voyage to Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal early Wednesday morning on a mission that may witness another attempt by China to disrupt the activity.

Over a hundred fisherfolk, along with Atin Ito coalition volunteers, journalists, and foreign observers, all clad with life jackets, started to depart from the port here at Barangay Matalvis at 7:26 a.m.


READ: Will civilian convoy enter Scarborough red line?


The journey was led by five indigenous mother boats called “pangulong,” where volunteers, foreign observers, and members of the media, including INQUIRER.net, are also aboard.

About a hundred small fishing boats also participated in the sail.

If the journey goes on unimpeded, it is expected to last for 50 hours, concluding on Saturday morning in a show of grit that would culminate in the deployment of buoys to assert the country’s sovereign rights there.

Last year, a Christmas convoy led by the same coalition sailed to bring supplies to Filipino troops stationed at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and other maritime features. However, they had to cut the trip short after being shadowed by Chinese vessels.

READ: Gift-bearing convoy begins WPS voyage: ‘This is ours’


“We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,” Robert Francis Garcia, one of the volunteers aboard one of the five motherships, told INQUIRER.net.

Chinese vessels waiting ‘at all points of compass’

The convoy is also expected to encounter Chinese vessels “at all four points of the compass,” according to a West Philippine Sea monitor.

Ray Powell, director of SeaLight, on Tuesday said in a post on X (formerly Twitter): “China Coast Guard and militia are arrayed at Coast Guard & militia now arrayed at all four points of the compass from Scarborough Shoal, awaiting approach of Philippines convoy.”

Since Monday, Powell first sounded the alarm on the surge of Chinese vessels there.

READ: China sending huge force in Scarborough ahead of civilian mission — expert 

“This will be by far the largest blockade I’ll have ever tracked at Scarborough,” Powell also noted. “China seems determined to aggressively enforce its claim over the shoal.”

Garcia, however, maintained his optimism.

“It is challenging but we are not scared, because what can they do to unarmed civilians like us?” Garcia said.

“We have good intentions, and there is no real fear on my part,” he added.

Presence of PCG vessel, warship assured

The Philippine Coast Guard said it will deploy a 44-meter vessel to monitor the situation.

Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad, Philippine Navy spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, also confirmed on Tuesday that a warship will be deployed to shadow the convoy.

Asked to confirm if a warship would be deployed there, Trinidad told reporters, “Without giving details on the distances, yes.”

“We are also in close contact with them,” he added.

Trinidad also said: “We would like to commend Atin Ito organizers. This is [a] civil society showing that they understand the issue.”

READ: 100 civilian boats will join sea caravan

China seized control of Scarborough Shoal’s lagoon in 2012 after a China Coast Guard standoff with Philippine vessels.

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This action is in line with Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty in almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, even if such a claim has been effectively invalidated by a July 2016 international tribunal ruling that stemmed from a case filed by Manila in 2013.

This landmark decision also included Scarborough Shoal, which was declared a traditional fishing ground that the Philippines, China, and Vietnam should share.

TAGS: convoy, Scaborough convoy, Scarborough Shoal, WPS convoy

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