BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal in West Philippine Sea. (File photo)

The National Security Council has now permitted a civilian-led Christmas Convoy to travel to the West Philippine Sea after initially urging its leaders not to proceed due to the dire situation in the area.

However, the convoy will not approach the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal directly, but will instead pass through its vicinity.

Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, spokesperson for the National Security Council (NSC), stated that following a “constructive dialogue” with leaders of the Atin Ito! Coalition last week, it was agreed that the Christmas sail would proceed.

“Both parties agreed that a convoy to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal would not be advisable at this time since the safety of the civilian convoy is of paramount consideration,” Malaya said in a statement issued on November 28.

“Nonetheless, the planned Christmas convoy will pass through the general vicinity of Ayungin Shoal as far as practicable, on its way to other selected PH-occupied features to bring Christmas cheer directly to our troops assigned to those areas as well as to our fisherfolks,” he added.

The convoy will also visit Pag-asa Island to deliver goods to the troops stationed there. Christmas gifts and donated supplies for BRP Sierra Madre will be handed over to the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard for delivery during their regular rotation and resupply (RoRe) missions.

Malaya explained that by visiting other Philippine-occupied features, the Christmas convoy will cover a larger area of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and bring Christmas cheer directly to more fisherfolk and frontliners.

The agreement ensures the safety and security of the Christmas convoy, timely delivery of donated items to fisherfolk and frontliners, and upholds the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the WPS.

“We thank the Atin Ito! Coalition for their cooperation and for finding common ground with government in asserting and defending our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in pursuit of the national interest,” he said.

Malaya, along with NSC Deputy Director General Nestor Herico and Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Andre del Rosario, met with coalition leaders including Akbayan President Rafaela David and Atin Ito! convenor Edicio dela Torre.

Over a week ago, the NSC advised the non-government organization against proceeding with its plan to deliver Christmas goods to fishermen and the personnel manning the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal on December 4.

This advice was due to the heightened tensions in the area following a series of aggressive actions by China, including a laser attack, water cannoning of a civilian boat, and dangerous maneuvers resulting in a collision between Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia and Philippine vessels.

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.