Panatag not reached, but still ‘mission accomplished’

by May 17, 2024Featured Article, News

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA—The civilian-led supply convoy on Thursday aborted plans to sail closer to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, although organizers declared the success of their mission after another boat was able to deliver provisions to 144 Filipino fishers despite the presence of China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels in the area.

“Parang sinabi niyong lumapit tayo kay Kamatayan ‘pag tumuloy tayo (It’s like telling us to approach the Grim Reaper had we pushed on),” Leonardo Cuaresma, president of the Zambales-based New Masinloc Fishermen Association, told the Inquirer.

“If we pushed through with our plan, we might be hit with water cannon,” said Cuaresma, who is familiar with the area as he used to join fishing trips to Panatag.

The convoy, organized by the “Atin Ito” (This is Ours) Coalition, set sail on Wednesday from Masinloc, Zambales province, to distribute fuel and food to fishers and assert Philippine rights in the disputed South China Sea. The shoal, at 230 kilometers off Zambales, is within the Philippines’ 370-km (200-nautical-mile) exclusive economic zone.

The trip comes two weeks after CCG vessels used water cannon against two Philippine government boats near Panatag, a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishers that they also call Bajo de Masinloc, a resource-rich shoal in the West Philippine Sea controlled by China since 2012.

Mission accomplished’

Atin Ito spokesperson Emman Hizon declared “mission accomplished,” telling reporters on Thursday that an “advance team” had already distributed fuel and other assistance to Filipino fishermen a day earlier in an area about 46 to 56 km (29 to 35 nautical miles) from the disputed shoal.