Philippine civilian convoy claims victory in Scarborough Shoal resupply mission

Activists defied a Chinese blockade to deliver food, fuel to Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea.
Jojo Riñoza
South China Sea
Philippine civilian convoy claims victory in Scarborough Shoal resupply mission A priest leads a thanksgiving prayer for volunteers who sailed with the Atin Ito!’s civilian convoy to mark what they said was the successful end of their South China Sea mission, May 16, 2024.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

Vessels in a Philippine civilian convoy were sailing home late Thursday after claiming that an advance boat had successfully delivered food and fuel to Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal despite a Chinese blockade.     

The coalition that organized the convoy said that a 10-member advance team had set sail toward the contested shoal in the South China Sea unannounced on Tuesday, on the eve of the departure of its much publicized flotilla.

The advance boat sailed to about 30 nautical miles from the shoal to deliver its supplies even as a Chinese navy ship shadowed it, convoy organizers said.

The mission “achieved a major victory when its advance team reached the vicinity of [Scarborough] Shoal on May 15, despite China’s massive and illegal blockade,” said Atin Ito! (This Is Ours!), a coalition of Filipino nationalists and civilian organizations, that staged the convoy.

About 100 fishing boats began the journey on Wednesday – most returned after participating in a ceremony about 20 miles from shore – while four larger boats sailed on toward Scarborough Shoal. As of publication time, those boats were sailing toward Subic, in Zambales province, northern Philippines, and were expected to arrive early Friday.

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Fishermen from FB Bing Bing, a lead boat of the Atin Ito! civilian convoy, pull their net as the sun sets on the South China Sea, May 16, 2024. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

Scarborough Shoal, known as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines, is 125 nautical miles (232 km) from the west coast of Luzon, the main Philippine island. The shoal lies within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but has been under China’s de facto control since 2012.

Filipino fishermen who venture into the shoal’s rich fishing ground say they are routinely harassed by Chinese ships.

3 objectives

The coalition said it accomplished its three main objectives: A “solidarity and peace” regatta of 100 small fishing boats in waters within the Philippines’ EEZ; the placement of symbolic buoys or markers to delineate Philippine territory; and the distribution of food and fuel to fishermen in the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal.

“Long live our victory! The West Philippine Sea is ours,” the coalition said, using Manila’s name for South China Sea waters within the EEZ.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the flotilla’s launch on Wednesday, Rafaela David, one of coalition’s leaders, said her group had learned from a similar convoy in December 2023, whose attempted destination was another disputed shoal, Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal. She added that the boats in this week’s convoy would sail toward Scarborough Shoal “at a safe distance” to avoid confrontation.

The earlier convoy did not reach the shoal because of constant shadowing by Chinese ships. On Wednesday evening, boats in the Philippine convoy reported seeing ships from the China Coast Guard, although they were still a long way from Scarborough Shoal.

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A China Coast Guard ship shadows a convoy of Philippine civilian boats, May 16, 2024. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

Meanwhile in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called on Manila to stop its “provocations” in the South China Sea. 

“We once again urge the Philippines to face the facts, honor its word, stop infringement and provocations at once and return to the right track of properly settling maritime differences through negotiation and consultation. If the Philippines does not change course, China will take necessary measures to firmly defend our legitimate rights and interests,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Wang was responding to a question during a news conference about a previous incident between the two nations and not specifically about the flotilla. He reiterated Manila’s arrangements with Beijing over the South China Sea.

“Whether it’s the ‘gentlemen’s agreement,’ or the internal understandings, or the ‘new model’ on properly managing the situation in the South China Sea, they all have clear timelines and are supported by solid evidence. No one can deny their existence,” Wang said.  


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