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

Atin Ito
Atin Ito! convenors raise symbolic buoys as they announce details of their second civilian-led humanitarian mission to Scarborough Shoal. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

Four commercial fishing boats carrying some 200 civilian volunteers, journalists, and observers, and about 100 smaller vessels will head to Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) on May 15 on a three-day mission to assert the Philippines’ fishing rights in the West Philippine Sea.  

Leaders of “Atin Ito” (This is Ours), a coalition of social movements, nongovernment organizations, fisher groups, artists, citizens, Church leaders, and entrepreneurs, said they are flexing civilian might in pursuit of an “active citizenship model” to counter China’s incursions in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. 

Rafaela David, one of the conveners and Akbayan Party president, expressed hope that the mission as a show of active citizenship would unite Filipinos in safeguarding the nation’s rights and territorial integrity.

The open-sea action by Atin Ito comes after a similar daring trip to Bajo de Masinloc last December. Organizers said it is being mounted in response to China’s claim that the Philippines has agreed to a “new model” concerning parts of the West Philippine Sea, and addresses the ongoing violence and harassment endured by Filipino fishers and frontliners particularly near Masinloc, Zambales, and Scarborough Shoal.

‘Genuine Filipino model’

“This is one of the genuine Filipino and progressive models we adhere to, unlike the fake narratives of a ‘gentleman’s agreement,’ ‘common understanding,’ and a ‘new model’ propagated by China,” David said in a press conference at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) building in Quezon City last Wednesday.

Edicio Dela Torre, another convener and PRRM president, said the mission coincides with the Farmers and Fisherfolk Month in May, which, he added, is the month of Mary, the guide and protector of Filipino Catholic seafarers. 

Organizers said a “peace and solidarity regatta” would be conducted off Masinloc, with symbolic markers and buoys bearing the message “WPS, Atin Ito!” installed in territorial waters. 

“This is not a sightseeing excursion to seek out Chinese marine vessels or a provocation to incite conflict. It is a legitimate exercise of Filipino citizens within our own territory,” David said. She reiterated that the mission upholds peaceful means of asserting sovereignty and rejects aggression or provocation.

“Our approach is grounded in reclaiming what rightfully belongs to us, guided by international law and diplomatic principles,” she said.

Present at the press conference were retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, retired Rear Admiral Rommel Ong, Kalibo (Aklan) Mayor Juris Sucro, and Fr. Robert Reyes, along with fisher leaders from the Subic Commercial Fishing Association, the New Masinloc Fisherfolk Association, the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PSKK), the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, and student leaders from Akbayan Youth and the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines.

‘Not a war zone’ 

Atin Ito
From left: Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Akbayan president Rafaela David and PRRM president Edicio dela Torre

PKSK chair Ruperto Aleroza said the groups seek to declare Scarborough Shoal as “a fishing zone, not a war zone.” He said the issue is “fishing to provide food not only to our family but the country.”

Atin Ito leaders said they are in coordination with the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea and other concerned government agencies on mission matters.

“The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been duly informed of our mission and itinerary, and is committed to closely monitor the mission, with the safety and security of all participants as its paramount concern,” the coalition leaders said in a press statement.

“We acknowledge the potential for our mission to face interruptions and/or be cut short due to safety and security concerns posed by Chinese marine vessels. While we will try our best to realize the main objectives of our second civilian mission, your safety and security remain our utmost priority,” they told the participating journalists. 

Last month, Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannons on two Philippine vessels, the PCG’s BRP Bagacay and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ BRP Datu Bankaw, which were bringing food and fuel to Filipino fishers in Bajo de Masinloc.

“This is barbarism at sea,” Akbayan’s David said. “This is ungentlemanly, to say the least, for a country which supposedly had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with us. For a trespassing entity in our territory, the sight of two Chinese coast guard vessels simultaneously firing water cannons at a solitary Philippine vessel is shameless beyond measure.” 

China’s water cannon strategy is “not working,” according to David. China’s water cannon attacks in the West Philippine Sea “is a broken philosophy,” she said. “They are not getting the desired results. On the contrary, they only nourish Filipino resolve in the West Philippine Sea.”

Read more: Marcos urged to push proposed Maritime Zones Act in the face of China’s ‘10-dash’ line map

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