Philippine Navy warships BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS15) and BRP Jose Rizal (FF150), along with the USS Gabriel Gifford (LCS 10) conducted tactical maneuvers in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday afternoon.

Philippine Navy warships BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PS15) and BRP Jose Rizal (FF150), along with the USS Gabriel Gifford (LCS 10) conduct tactical maneuvers in the West Philippine Sea. (Photo from the Armed Forces of the Philippines)




Manila, Philippines — A civilian group that earlier failed to get the government’s approval to bring Christmas presents and provisions to soldiers in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) can now finally proceed with its plan.

But it was not clear whether the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea has also allowed the Atin Ito coalition to stop over at BRP Sierra Madre, the grounded vessel that serves as a military outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

According to the group, the task force has “agreed” to its planned Christmas convoy, a civilian-led supply mission, following “a successful resolution of contentious issues” during their meeting last Friday.

National Security Council (NSC) Deputy Director General Nestor Herico, NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, and Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Michael Andre del Rosario had met with Akbayan President Rafaela David and Atin Ito convener Edicio dela Torre.

“Atin Ito effectively presented its objectives and perspectives, securing an agreement with relevant authorities, including a sea route that passes by the Ayungin Shoal, that ensures the safety of all parties involved, guarantees provisions for our fisherfolk and front-liners, and upholds Filipinos’ right to peaceful travel within our territory,” the group claimed in a statement on Monday.

Other options

Last week, the NSC called the Christmas convoy to Ayungin Shoal originally set on Dec. 5 as ill-advised, given the “heightened tensions between the Philippines and China.”

The NSC instead encouraged the group to conduct the Christmas convoy to eight other Philippine-occupied features in the Kalayaan Island Group, particularly Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, the largest among the islands and the only one with permanent civilian inhabitants of at least 400.

The council said they could instead choose to visit other outposts in the West Philippine Sea, such as Lawak (Nanshan) Island, Kota (Loaita) Island, Likas (West York) Island, Parola (Northeast Cay) Island, Panata (Lankiam Cay) Island, Patag (Flat) Island and Rizal (Commodore) Reef, where government troops are also present.

The group may also turn over the Christmas donations they had collected to the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard whose personnel would bring them to the BRP Sierra Madre during the resupply missions, it added.

China has been constantly harassing Philippine vessels on a resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre.

Atin Ito did not immediately provide its revised plan for the Christmas mission, while the NSC has yet to release an official statement on the matter.

The Atin Ito coalition also includes, among others, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, Akbayan Youth, the Center for Agrarian Reform for Empowerment and Transformation, Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, and the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka.