Philippine Organization Will Conduct Civilian Mission to Scarborough Shoal

On April 25th, the Philippine organization, Atin Ito! (Tagalog for It’s Ours!), announced they would conduct a civilian mission to Scarborough Shoal on May 15th. The mission will consist of two mother ships and approximately 100 civilian fishing vessels sailing from the town of Masinloc, Zambales Province, to the shoal. The vessels will then install markers/buoys at the shoal and possibly deliver various supplies, such as food and fuel, to Philippine fishermen in the area. Atin Ito! is a coalition comprising agricultural, fisherfolk, rural advocacy, and youth groups that advocate for the Philippines’ rights to its claims in the South China Sea (SCS).

Announcement 

Two of the organization’s co-convenors, Akbayan President Rafaela David and Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement President Edicio Dela Torre, announced the mission called ‘peace and solidarity regatta’ on April 25th. David said that the mission’s primary objective is to install “symbolic markers/buoys emblazoned with the rallying cry “WPS, Atin Ito!’” (Tagalog for WPS is ours!) to “reinforce the Philippines’ territorial integrity.” The organization will also “explore the possibility” of delivering essential supplies, including fuel, to Philippine fishermen fishing in the area. David then said that “citizens must navigate an independent but collaborative path that harnesses the bayanihan spirit of our communities and asserts the rights of our people, especially our fishfolk,” amid evolving geopolitical dynamics. She also said that active citizenship is a superpower in and of itself. “By mobilizing civilians and engaging in peaceful activities within our EEZ,” David argued that the Philippines will reclaim “our space and assert our territorial integrity in a manner that champions peace and diplomacy.”

Undated satellite image of Scarborough Shoal (Photo: European Space Agency)

Torre said that the Philippines must, in the face of adversity, “stand firm in defending what is rightfully ours—nothing more, nothing less.” David also said that the country’s sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea] is not negotiable” and that it is a fundamental aspect of the Philippines’ national identity and heritage, “rooted in centuries of history and upheld by international law.” Torre said that Atin Ito’s plan to place buoys in the Philippines’ EEZ sends a resolute message that “the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea] is not up for grabs” and that the sea belongs to the Philippine people, “and we, as active citizens, will peacefully defend it.”

Analysis

Atin Ito’s mission to the Scarborough Shoal will unlikely proceed without the organization making major concessions to the Philippine government, which the group would likely view as the country conceding to China’s narrative regarding sovereignty over the shoal.

Atin Ito’s announcement of its intention to travel to Scarborough Shoal comes over a month after the organization said it was contemplating a second mission to the SCS and that the shoal would likely be the location. However, the group will likely negotiate with the Philippine government to sail to the shoal, like they did to conduct its first mission in November 2023. The government declined their first request to deliver supplies and Christmas presents over “unspecified issues,” likely connected to the organization’s plan to visit the Second Thomas Shoal during the mission. However, Atin Ito! agreed to the Philippine government’s demand that the 40-vessel convoy not visit or dock at the shoal due to safety concerns. These concerns stem from the possibility that China Coast Guard (CCG) or China Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels would intercept and harass the convoy if they attempted to dock at the feature.

While the Philippine government or military did not issue a statement about the announcement, it is unlikely that the government will approve Atin Ito’s mission without major changes. The most significant change would be for the organization not to install the markers/buoys at the feature since this would cause the CCG and CMM to harass the convoy as they neared the shoal. Furthermore, the plans to install buoys will likely cause China to send People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels to shadow the convoy, like what occurred during the first civilian mission in December 2023. Another change the Philippines would require Atin Ito to make is to significantly decrease the number of vessels that would make up the convoy.

The government would want the Atin Ito coalition to decrease the number of vessels to enable the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to provide better operational control and security for the convoy. However, Atin Ito’s plans of dropping off buoys at the shoal would likely be the ‘sticking point’ since the change would go against its mission of advocating for the Philippines’ rights to its SCS claims. The organization would also be less inclined to modify any part of the mission because they would perceive this as bowing to China’s narrative that they have sovereignty over the shoal.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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