‘Atin Ito’s’ mission is for Philippine sovereign rights and a rules-based global order

‘Atin Ito’s’ mission is for Philippine sovereign rights and a rules-based global order
Atin Ito volunteers send off civilian mission to Scarborough shoal in Matalvis Port in Masinloc, Zambales, early Wednesday. — PHOTO BY RUBY PAUROM

BOTOLAN, Zambales—The fight of Filipinos for their sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea is intended as much to protect their national interest against China’s encroachments into their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as it is to help establish an international rules-based order against a superpower bully, the citizens’ coalition “Atin Ito” (This is Ours) declared ahead of a planned flotilla sailing to Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on Wednesday.

Atin Ito coconvener Edicio dela Torre said China’s conduct as a superpower bullying a small country like the Philippines is not the “best message” to deliver to the international community as a “major contender” in a world where the rules should be fair to all.

“We are also communicating to the world that this is not our fight alone,” Dela Torre said. “This is the struggle of the whole community of nations to have a rules-based international order.”

Atin Ito mission
Fr. Robert Reyes blesses fishermen joining the Atin Ito expedition to Scarborough Shoal during a send-off Mass at Sambali Beach Farm in Botolan, Zambales. —PHOTOS BY EDWIN BACASMAS

Atin Ito said Wednesday’s voyage is for “peace and solidarity” with Filipino fishermen who have been deprived of one of their rich fishing grounds.

It is meant to assert civilian rights over Scarborough Shoal—also known as Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag Shoal—which has been controlled by China since 2012.

Food and other provisions

Mission to Sacrborough
Atin Ito coconveners Rafaela David and Edicio dela Torre provide a briefer on the civilian-led mission during a press conference.

According to the organizers, the flotilla of dozens of fishing boats will bring food and other provisions, including fuel, to fishers in the vicinity of the shoal located about 220 kilometers west of Zambales province.

Volunteers on the boats will also release orange buoys painted with the words “Atin Ito” close to Scarborough as a symbolic gesture to reiterate the Philippines’ stake in the shoal.

The coalition is rejecting Beijing’s “propaganda” line that the Philippines’ actions in asserting its rightful access to Scarborough is being done at the bidding of the United States.

Dela Torre said Beijing had been depicting Manila as a “pawn” in its international rivalry with the United States in a battle for “supremacy” in the region and in the world.

“And that’s why it hurts us personally,” he said. “Why are we only classified always as implementors of some American strategy? We have our own minds.”

The coalition expects the Chinese coast guard and their maritime militia to block its path, as they had done many times in trying to stop the delivery of supplies to Filipino troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, the military outpost at Ayungin Shoal, which is also well within the country’s EEZ.

A similar Atin Ito mission to Ayungin last December had to be aborted to prevent a confrontation with a China coast guard ship that had shadowed its supply vessel.

“If China is militarizing our own exclusive economic zone, we are there to civilianize our own seas because at the end of the day, we stand by our own belief that the West Philippine Sea should be accessible to ordinary citizens, especially our fisherfolk communities whose livelihood depends on the sea,” said Atin Ito coconvener Rafaela David.

Shelter from storms

Atin Ito sendoff to mission
Fr. Robert Reyes officiates at a send-off Mass at sunset in Botolan, Zambales.

China started to block the entrance to Scarborough’s lagoon, a generations-old fishing ground for Filipinos that also provides them shelter during storms, in June 2012.

This followed a standoff with the Philippine Navy, which tried to apprehend Chinese fishermen who illegally harvested endangered giant clams at the shoal and severely damaged its reefs in the process.

The blockade prompted the Philippines to challenge China’s sweeping claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, which is part of the country’s 370-kilometer EEZ.

The international arbitral tribunal decided in favor of the Philippines in 2016. The arbitral award invalidated China’s historical claim to these waters and ruled that although Scarborough is within the Philippines’ EEZ, it should remain open as a common fishing ground not only for the Philippines but also for China and Vietnam.

Beijing refuses to recognize the ruling.

Another view being spread by Beijing is that the Philippines is provoking China into an open armed conflict in their maritime dispute to justify US intervention in support of the Philippines, America’s defense treaty ally.

Atin Ito
Atin Ito leaders release symbolic buoys to mark the Philippine claim to its sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea on Wednesday. —PHOTO BY JUN BANDAYREL

But war does not result in any good to anyone, said Dela Torre, a former priest.

“We want to say very clearly to China and to the world: We don’t want to escalate violence. We don’t want war. We want peace,” he said, adding that peaceful negotiation should be pursued by both sides.

Dela Torre said some groups say that if Filipinos want peace, then they should just surrender their sovereign rights to the Chinese. “That’s a bit too much. Appeasement, in general, never works with bullies,” he said.

Read more: ‘Atin Ito’ sets new mission to Scarborough Shoal to assert Filipinos’ fishing rights

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.