Forty-seven Filipino youths set up camp in the disputed South China Sea to protest against China. The protesters, ages 15 to 27 years old, arrived on Pagasa Island in the Spratly archipelago on Dec 26. China had already expressed its anger toward the demonstrators. There were eleven minors among those who set up camp over the contested island.
The Filipino youths identified their group as “Kalayaan Atin Ito” which roughly translates to “Kalayaan, this is ours.” They sailed to the disputed island aboard a ship owned by a former naval officer.
While the local government acknowledged the youths’ effort to uphold Philippines’ rights in the contested South China Sea, officials are worried about their safety. “We salute them for their patriotism regarding the West Philippine [South China Sea] issue,” Col Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, told the Inquirer. The colonel however stressed that the protesters might experience rough sea conditions; worse, they might be the receiver of violent reactions from other claimants, especially China.
Indeed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang expressed strong condemnation at the arrival of the Filipino students in South China Sea, Xinhua reported. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, including the Zhongye Dao Island,” the spokesman said as quoted by Xinhua. He called for the Philippines to withdraw its personnel and other facilities that China deemed as illegally occupying the island.
The situation in South China Sea had been tensed. There were numerous near-misses between different aircraft and vessels involving China and the Pentagon. Observers had been saying that China’s activity in the disputed region was military in nature. Words had it that World War 3 could erupt in the region, as well as a nuclear war.
Attorney Vera Joy Ban-eg, one of the coordinators of the Filipino youth protesters, told Inquirer that they will camp in the island until Dec. 31. “This freedom voyage is a call for unity for the entire country to take a stand to protect our territory. We hope this will get the attention of the international arbitration panel. We are monitoring whatever resolution will be issued on this,” the attorney said.
The Filipino protesters are receiving donations from residents of nearby islands. A government’s aircraft also brought a doctor and a priest to check on the youths.