Despite shadowing by Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels on the main “Christmas Convoy” headed to the West Philippine Sea on Sunday, a smaller supply boat managed to reach Lawak Island and deliver provisions to Filipino troops and fishermen, the convoy organizer said on Monday.
Although the main ship of the “Atin Ito” convoy, MV Kapitan Felix Oca, had to turn back, the coalition said MV Chowee, a smaller supply boat that took a different route, managed to bring supplies and Christmas packages to Lawak.
MV Chowee did not have volunteers or media aboard.
“ATIN ITO’s supply boat slipped [past] Chinese marine vessels arriving at Lawak Island on 11 December, 5:00 am. Nakalusot (It got through)!” the Atin Ito statement read.
“They are now in the process of dropping off donations and supplies with the help of frontliners stationed in the area,” they added.
TS Felix Oca was carrying the Atin Ito Movement members who were supposed to deliver Christmas presents to Filipino soldiers stationed at Lawak Island, but it turned around on Sunday afternoon and returned to El Nido in Palawan.
The scheduled rendezvous with about 20 small fishing boats was also called off and the fishing boats also went to Sam Fernando Port in El Nido town where they met up at noon Monday.
Rafaela David of Akbayan Party and co-convenor of Atin Ito said despite not being able to push through with the mission, their advocacy remains firm in fighting for the country’s territorial rights in the WPS.
“There remains a single narrative: West Philippine Sea, Atin ito! As Filipinos, we are united in the fight for what is rightfully ours.
Let’s not lose sight of the true threat within our territory. As China intensifies its aggression within our territory, we should also scale up our unity,” David asserted.
The group also declared the mission a significant accomplishment as the first ever civilian-led supply mission in the WPS, emphasizing the successful collaboration among civil society, media, and the government, and media’s freedom to broadcast live in the area, including the first-ever participation of foreign journalists.
“This marks the inaugural civilian-led supply mission in the West Philippine Sea, with many more to come. Our goal is to regularize and normalize the travel and movement of the Filipino people in this region. After all, it is ours,” David concluded.
The Christmas convoy that sailed from San Fernando Port in El Nido town and headed towards Lawak Island in Kalayaan town did not reach its destination after the captain of the ship they boarded decided to turn around after encountering Chinese vessels in the afternoon of Sunday, December 10.
TS Kapitan Felix Oca was nearly halfway to its destination when it first encountered People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel with bow number 173 around 13 nautical miles from Ayungin Shoal at 3:40 p.m., which dela Cruz said was traveling at 21 knots. A few minutes later, another Chinese navy ship appeared.
A China Coast Guard then appeared and when it was about three nautical miles away, it changed course and headed towards the direction of TS KFO, Capt. Jorge dela Cruz said.
When the CCG turned towards the direction of TS KFO, dela Cruz said Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Melchora Aquino which was escorting them advised him to transfer to their port (left) side “but I have already decided to turn around.”
The CCG vessel appearance briefly interrupted a Holy Mass aboard TS KFO being presided over by running priest Fr. Robert Reyes and Fr. Alfredo Raymund Camacho.
David of Akbayan Party explained that after consulting with the Philippine Coast Guard and the group, the captain of TS KFO decided to turn around and return to El Nido for safety reasons.
“We are erring on the side of caution and kasi nga medyo marami yung nakita natin at pinalibutan tayo at in coordination with our coast guard and the decision of our boat captain, we are going back,” David told participants of the convoy.
Capt. dela Cruz said that after assessing the situation he did not want to compromise the safety of the group, so he chose to turn around.
The CCG came as close as 2.5 NM and turned head-on towards TS KFO while the navy was at 5 NM buy just headed on its course.
Dela Cruz said he was worried because the CCG vessel did not communicate when it appeared.
“We did not receive any radio challenge or announcement of its intentions but their actions were not normal maneuvering,” he said adding that he did not want to further escalate the tension considering the incidents that happened in Scarborough Shoal on Saturday and to M/L Kalayaan near Ayungin Shoal on Sunday.
The incident in Ayungin Shoal Sunday morning where a CCG vessel water cannoned and rammed ML Kalayaan made the captain change the convoy’s route, veering away from Ayungin Shoal and heading directly towards Lawak Island.
“I really feel that something was about to happen and then it was also getting dark so that makes it harder,” he said.
After the botched mission, David said the supplies will still be delivered to their intended beneficiaries.
“We will meet our partners for other actions the other supplies will be turned over to Western Command and the PCG. We will regroup and plan our next moves because all the more that we need to stand our ground and unite in our campaign,” she said. With Vince Lopez