Filipino fishermen can no longer access Scarborough Shoal as the China Coast Guard (CCG) has been driving them away and has begun installing pipes somewhere in “its middle,” said the advance team of the Atin Ito second resupply mission that set sail to the area in the West Philippine Sea.

Mark Figueras, the team leader, reported that when they approached within approximately 25-30 nautical miles of Scarborough Shoal (also Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc) on at around 11 p.m. on May 14, Filipino fishermen informed them that access to the area has been restricted by the CCG.

“Ang sinasabi nila sa akin, one month bago mangyari ito, nakakadikit pa sila ng around 100 meters sa BDM. Ngayon, tinataboy na sila, hindi na sila pinapayagan sa loob kasi may mga activity na doon. May nakabantay na doon, meron nang itinatayong tubo sa gitna,” Figueras said in a press briefing in Zambales after the mission on May 17.

“May mga coast guard na sa paligid, tapos yung bungad, may apat, and sa loob merong limang Chinese navy, kaya hindi na sila pinapalapit doon. May ibinaon na malaking tubo sa gitna. Hindi na nila ma-identify kasi hindi na sila makalapit,” he stated.

The shoal is situated approximately 220 kilometers west of the Philippine island of Luzon, where China’s coast guard has maintained a presence since 2012. The area serves as a rich fishing ground for fishermen from at least three provinces—Bataan, Pangasinan, and Zambales.

Figueras said that the fishermen felt they had lost so much since they could no longer get close to or enter the shoal, which once served as their shelter whenever the weather turned bad.

“Ang sinasabi nga nila, malaking bagay ang nawala sa kanila. Kaya nga kung tawagin yan ay Panatag kasi nga kahit anong unos na malakas, dyan sila tumatago. Yan yung safest area na pwede nilang matakbuhan,” he said.

He also narrated that when they reached the vicinity of the shoal, a Chinese warship immediately shadowed them as they began distributing supplies to the fishermen.

They spotted the navy ship only a nautical mile away from them and noticed it drawing closer as they distributed the supplies. Later, a helicopter was dispatched, prompting them to retreat.

“Around 9-10 ng umaga, nagkakaroon ng activity, so pinaliparan na kami ng helicopter. Umatras kami ng kaunti, around 30 nautical miles,” Figueras stated.

He said they tried to get closer again and attempted to enter the shoal when the navy ship later left but they were met by six CCG vessels and they were driven away.

In the same press briefing, Akbayan Party President and Atin Ito Coalition Co-Convenor Rafaela David hailed the fishermen and volunteers who joined the mission, thanking them for their support to the cause.

“We’re very proud kasi mission accomplished ang ating 2nd resupply mission. And of course we are celebrating yung ating magigiting na volunteers natin lalo na yung mga kasama natin sa advance team… they were able to breach the massive illegal blockade of China, at umabot sila 25-30 nautical miles from Bajo de Masinloc,” David said.

David pointed out that even though they were not able to enter the shoal, the mission was still successful, particularly in sending a message to China that the WPS belongs to the Philippines.

She also mentioned that they are already planning another mission, intending to make it regular and normal for ordinary fishermen to sail in the area.

“We want to regularize and normalize civilian access to WPS.,” she said.

“Tayo ay magpa-plano ngayon with stronger resolve. We are undeterred, tuloy-tuloy tayo sa ating paninindigan,” she added.

Meanwhile, Department of National Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. praised the group for the successful conduct of the resupply mission.

Teodoro also urged the coalition to engage in more of the same activities to raise awareness of the Philippines’ rights in WPS.

“Natutuwa ako na nangyari at successful ang civilian resupply mission at dapat dalasan nila ito. Ito ay fishing ground talaga ng mga Pilipino e. So hindi tayo dapat humingi ng pahintulot o pinagbigyan or whatever. Yan ay false narrative ng China,” Teodoro said in an interview with the media during his visit to Puerto Princesa City on Thursday.

China, meanwhile, has issued a warning against civilians converging on Scarborough Shoal, according to a story that was published by the South China Morning post on May 16.

Beijing has reportedly expanded the mandate of the CCG through a regulatory document to detain foreigners who cross the China border and detain them for up to 60 days without trial, starting on June 15. The issuance of this new order coincided with the resupply mission of the civilian convoy to Scarborough Shoal.

In the new regulatory document, foreigners can be detained for 30 days for simple trespassing and 60 days for more complicated cases.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry warned China on Wednesday, May 15, that if the Philippines continues to violate their territory, they will not hesitate to implement the necessary countermeasures to defend their rights as well.