PCG ‘overwhelmed’ by Christmas gifts offered to Pag-asa Island guards

By: Dexter Cabalaza December 02,2023 - 09:20 AM

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Friday expressed an early gratitude to civil society groups that are supporting the “Christmas caravan” on Dec. 10, a three-day  unprecedented mission for civilians that requires extra security measures as it traverses the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, PCG Rear Adm. Armando Balilo said the PCG had been “overwhelmed” by the many calls offering gifts, clothes, medicine, and other essential goods intended for its personnel posted in Pag-asa (Thitu) Island. The gifts to be delivered are expected to boost the morale of its personnel.

According to Balilo, PCG chief Adm. Ronnie Gil Gavan was “sincerely grateful for the generosity of nonprofit organizations and private stakeholders who extend the spirit of giving to the country’s brave Coast Guardians.”“Rest assured that we will swiftly transport their gifts to Palawan so our Coast Guard troops can receive them before Christmas,” he said.

For those who still want to send goods, they can coordinate with the PCG Public Affairs Service via the official PCG Facebook page or its operations number (0927-5607729), the PCG said.

At least 40 boats

Gavan directed the Coast Guard District in Palawan to ensure the safety and security of “at least 40 boats” participating in the Atin Ito coalition’s three-day Christmas caravan that starts next Saturday.

Their route will take them to the waters off Patag (Flat) Island and Lawak (Nanshan) Island, before reaching Pag-asa Island, the largest among the Philippine-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea and the only one with a permanent civilian population currently at around 400.

Inhabited since 1971, Pag-asa is part of the Kalayaan municipality of Palawan, which has jurisdiction over the Kalayaan Island Group. Aside from an airfield and a naval base, it now has a newly constructed PCG station.

No to Ayungin trip

“As early as now, we are preparing our security personnel and positioning our vessels to uphold maritime security and safety during the three-day humanitarian initiative,” Gavan said. “As our fellow Filipinos step foot on Pag-asa Island, we hope this experience will ignite the spirit of patriotism and inspire them to stand with us in safeguarding the country’s sovereign rights within our exclusive economic zones.”

Commodore Jay Tarriela, the PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, earlier told groups participating in the caravan to prepare for possible bad weather on the high seas and brace for Chinese maritime militia vessels that might tail the convoy.

The National Security Council (NSC) earlier gave the green light to the Pag-asa-bound caravan but said no to Atin Ito’s original plan to bring presents and supplies to the BRP Sierra Madre, the rusting, deliberately grounded ship serving as a military outpost at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

READ MORE: Philippines eyes codes of conduct to keep peace in South China Sea

The NSC cited the dangers entailed by such trip, Ayungin being the site of recurring tensions—and lately, vessel collisions—between the PCG and its Chinese counterpart.

The Dec. 10 caravan, to be led by a mother vessel carrying 50 to 100 passengers, will start from El Nido, Palawan, and expects to reach Pag-asa in two to three days.

‘High possibility’

Other details, including the total number of participants, were still being finalized with the PCG, according to Rafaela David, president of the Akbayan Party, one of the groups making up the Atin Ito (This is Ours) coalition.

“The Chinese Coast Guard will surely deploy more of its ships, together with the Chinese maritime militia vessels. With the sheer number of its forces around Ayungin, there is a high possibility that the caravan would be met by the Chinese maritime forces,” Tarriela said during a briefing on Wednesday.

“We told them that they can pass through the vicinity waters of Ayungin Shoal, but definitely BRP Sierra Madre is not their final destination. They can proceed to the other maritime features,” he added.

Before being allowed to sail, Tarriela said, participants in the caravan must secure permits from the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), which will check their vessels’ seaworthiness.

Small fishing boats are not allowed, given the long voyage and unpredictable sea conditions, he said, adding:

“We need to reach out to the organizers to discuss the vessels that they will bring. They have to be seaworthy and the vessel captains should have the experience in order not to jeopardize the safety of the participants.”

READ MORE: Marcos tells Xi: Philippine fishers should work freely in West Philippine Sea

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TAGS: Philippine Coast Guard, West philippine Sea

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