(Photo courtesy from Akbayan Party)

A convoy of around 100 fishing boats led by five mother boats locally known as Pangulong with volunteers aboard has embarked on a civilian convoy sailing towards Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) to conduct a peace and solidarity regatta and to place symbolic markers bearing the words “West Philippine Sea Atin Ito, on Wednesday, May 15.

The convoy, which left Masinloc town in Zambales at 7:26 in the morning, also aims to deliver fuel and other essential supplies to fishermen around the shoal.

Atin Ito Coalition, the group that organized the mission, the second of its kind in the West Philippine Sea, said the primary objective of the activity is to assert the Philippines’ rights, sovereignty, and access to its territorial waters, an area that is well within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Akbayan Party President Rafaela David, a co-convenor of Atin Ito, said the mission is a peaceful way of showing support to Filipinos earning a living in Scarborough Shoal.

“We should normalize and regularize civilian access to the West Philippine Sea,” David said in a press briefing with volunteers who joined the mission on Tuesday afternoon.

“If China is militarizing our own exclusive economic zone, we’re there to civilianize our seas. Because at the end of the day, we stand by our belief that WPS should be accessible to ordinary citizens, especially to our fisherfolk communities whose livelihood depends on the sea and the ocean,” she explained.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has urged China to respect the resupply mission, which is civilian in nature. The Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Navy will deploy vessels to closely monitor the convoy, anticipating China’s attempts to block and harass the group once in the area.

Ray Powell, a maritime expert and director at SeaLight of Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, said in a post on his X account that China has sent a large number of China Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels to Scarborough Shoal as early as Monday to meet the convoy.

Powell stated that they have monitored at least 26 militia vessels and CCG ships, along with some ‘dark’ vessels, or ships that are difficult to track.

“This will be by far the largest blockade I’ve ever tracked at Scarborough,” Powell said.

National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS) spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said during the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon press briefing on Monday that the Philippines is asking China to “respect the freedom of navigation of the vessels involved in this mission because they are civilians. They have no direct connection to the government.

“We ask our countrymen to pray for the success of this mission—aa civilian mission—and we call on China to respect the nature of this civilian mission by not interfering with their voyage,” Malaya said.

David likewise reiterated that the resupply mission is a “legitimate exercise of Filipino citizens’ right to movement within our territory based on international law and “aimed at asserting our sovereign rights.”

She also said that Chinese vessels are expected, just like what happened during the first resupply mission in December last year, they will not be deterred.

“It only underscores the urgency of civilianizing the area in response to China’s militarization,” she said.