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China readies blockade of Panatag – US expert

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing is deploying a “huge force” to prevent a flotilla of Filipino fishing boats and other small vessels under the Atin Ito Coalition from reaching Panatag or Scarborough Shoal, according to a US-based maritime expert.

The Atin Ito Coalition’s “peace and solidarity regatta” of up to 100 fishing boats sets sail today for Panatag to dramatize Filipinos’ determination to defend the country’s sovereignty.

“China is sending a huge force to blockade Scarborough Shoal ahead of the Atin Ito civilian convoy…,” SeaLight director Ray Powell wrote on X. “By this time tomorrow, at least four coast guard and 26 large maritime militia ships on blockade (not counting ‘dark’ vessels).”

Powell, a former US Air Force official and defense attaché, has been tracking movements in the South China Sea.

The Atin Ito trip to Panatag culminates on May 17.

“This will be by far the largest blockade I’ll have ever tracked at Scarborough. China seems determined to aggressively enforce its claim over the shoal, of which it seized control from the Philippines in 2012 as summarized by AsiaMTI,” he said.

The Chinese “blockade” reportedly consists of at least four China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and 26 large Chinese maritime militia (CMM) ships.

But Philippine Coast Guard-West Philippine Sea (PCG-WPS) spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said Powell was only making a “prediction.”

“Ray Powell is using the satellite to monitor the movement of vessels. He is forecasting that the (Chinese) vessel to Bajo de Masinloc (has) the intention to block the sail of the Atin Ito to the BDM, but this is just a forecast, a prediction of what will transpire,” Tarriela said at a briefing.

He also said the Atin Ito journey to Panatag is not sanctioned by the PCG or by the Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (TF-WPS) but is assured of protection against harm and harassment.

“For the PCG, our objective is to ensure the safety of those who would be joining. We have to make sure that they would not be harassed or injured, in case they would be harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard,” he said.

Tarriela added that Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan, commandant of the PCG, “had already issued a directive that if