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Despite the risks, ‘Atin Ito’ hopes to navigate West Philippine Sea frequently without fear

Photo by Danny Pata
Vince Lopez

The ‘Atin Ito’ coalition is aware of the risks attached to the expeditions it launched in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), but co-convenor Emman Hizon said they hope more civilians can go on these kinds of adventures without fearing for their safety.

“We want to normalize civilian missions to WPS,” Hizon told broadcast journalist Howie Severino in a recent podcast. The two talked about the intense preparation that went into the recent tension-filled convoy of the group in the disputed waters.

The ‘Atin Ito’ coalition organized a flotilla of over 100 Filipino civilian boats last May to navigate the perilous WPS under the shadow of the Chinese naval might. Their mission was to assert Philippine sovereignty over the waters by delivering essential supplies to Filipino fishermen in the area.

“We went there to provide supplies and crude oil for our fishermen, but what met us was an armada, large blocking forces of Navy, Coast Guard and Militia vessels,” Hizon recalled, highlighting the intimidating presence of Chinese maritime forces.

Despite the daunting challenges, the flotilla managed to reach its destination near the Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), a strategically significant area that falls within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

The coalition placed “Atin Ito” markers and returned safely to the Luzon mainland, declaring their mission a success. This operation followed their inaugural mission in December 2023 and was part of a broader strategy to solidify civilian claims to these contested waters.

No one sees an end soon to the standoff between China and the Philippines in the WPS, but the coalition remains resolute. ‘Atin Ito’ envisions a future where more civilians from diverse backgrounds unite in the cause of Philippine sovereignty.

Drawing lessons from their first mission to Ayungin Shoal, this second resupply mission represents a new strategy, according to Hizon. He said they are hoping to inspire a national movement anchored in a unified narrative.

“Our theory of victory today is if we can mobilize the general public into one national narrative that no matter what our differences are, even if we argue on other issues, but when it comes to WPS, our narrative is the same, it is ours and we are fighting for it in a united way,” Hizon explained.

In the battle of narratives, as Hizon described it, asserting sovereignty through civilian action is seen as a significant moral victory. He noted a shifting sentiment among younger Filipinos, who now view China as an adversary rather than an ally, contrasting with past generations’ perspectives.

Hizon thanked everyone involved who played a crucial role in ensuring the success of their operation and the convoy’s safety. “We are grateful for the assistance of our government, especially the (Philippine) Coast Guard, in our civilian supply mission,” he said.

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