05/16/2024, 14.58
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Philippine bishops urge prayers for peace in the South China Sea

by Santosh Digal

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, who chairs the Bishops' Conference, calls on faithful to “accompany" the civilian supply mission promoted by the Atin Ito Coalition NGO. About 200 volunteers, 100 fishermen, and five boats evaded China’s naval blockade reaching the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has waded into the dispute pitting Manila against Beijing in the South China Sea.

With global trade passing through the sea each year estimated at more than three trillion dollars, the area is a major source of tensions that could escalate.

CBCP President, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, recently called on the faithful to pray for the country and for a future of peace in a region where relations between the two sides have progressively worsened.

“Let us accompany the civilian supply mission to the West Philippine Sea with our prayers,” the archbishop said. “Let us pray to the Lord that no untoward incident happens to the fleet of five civilian marine vessels and one hundred small fishing boats that are presently navigating their way through our exclusive economic zone to deliver fuel and food supplies to our fishermen in the vicinity of the Panatag Shoal.” 

“A stubborn civilian presence instead of a joint military show-of-force is indeed a peaceful, nonviolent approach to this conflict. This is also a positive test case of civilian supremacy over the military, which is essential in a true democracy,” he explained.

“We must reject imperialist bullying and geopolitical warmongering. Yes, to peace and mutual respect for sovereignty among civilized nations! God bless our homeland,” the CBCP president added. 

Bishop David was referring to a civilian mission near the Scarborough Shoal, also called Panatag Shoal. Civilian boats can help end the Chinese siege without resorting to military force.

Today, Atin Ito Coalition, the NGO behind the expedition, reported that the boats were able to bypass the Chinese naval blockade and arrived near the atolls.

“Despite China's massive blockade, we managed to breach their illegal blockade, reaching Bajo de Masinloc to support our fishermen with essential supplies. Mission completed!" said Akbayan Rafaela David, Atin Ito co-convenor and president.

The group that reached the disputed area includes about 200 volunteers and 100 fishermen and five boats.

An advance party left on 14 May, followed the next day by the rest of the boats involved in the civilian operation.

The next day the crew landed about 25 to 30 nautical miles from the Scarborough Shoal area, bringing fuel, food, and other essential goods to Philippine fishermen operating in the area.

David reported that the mission distributed two hundred food packages and a thousand litres of diesel.

Such an operation is not without risks since at least 43 Chinese boats, including two warships, have been deployed at the shoal to hinder the Philippine supply operation.

The supply group also placed 12 symbolic orange buoys bearing the inscription "WPS ATIN ITO!" (The West Philippine Sea Is Ours!).

For years, China and several coastal states have been embroiled in territorial disputes over large swathes of the South China Sea, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

China has not recognised the 2016 ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which declared its claims legally unfounded and invalid.

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