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MANILA, Philippines — A convoy of civilian boats planning to deliver provisions to Filipino fishermen and troops in the disputed South China Sea aborted the trip yesterday after “constant shadowing” by Chinese vessels, the organizer said.

The “Christmas convoy,” which departed Palawan early yesterday, was being led by dozens of volunteers on two boats carryin g food, water and other donations.

It changed course after a confrontation between Philippine and Chinese vessels earlier in the day.

The Atin Ito group said it was “erring on the side of caution” in consultation with the Philippine Coast Guard and had decided to return to El Nido in Palawan “after the constant shadowing of four Chinese vessels.”

The Chinese vessels included two Navy ships, one coast guard and one cargo ship, the group said in a statement. 

Fishermen in 40 wooden outrigger boats who had joined the convoy would also return to shore, said Emman Hizon of Atin Ito.

“Even going back to El Nido, they are still being shadowed by two Chinese Navy and one Chinese Coast Guard.”

The Philippine Coast Guard escorted the convoy as it travelled through the hotly contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely.

The Philippines has outposts on nine reefs and islands in the Spratlys. It was not immediately clear how far the convoy got before turning back.

Atin Ito Coalition said previously the convoy aimed to highlight the living and working conditions of Filipino fishermen and personnel, and to defend the country’s maritime territorial rights.

The convoy had planned to go past Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin), where a handful of Filipino troops are stationed on a grounded warship, on its way to the Philippine-held Nanshan Island (Lawak) where donations would be left.

A collision and confrontation between Philippine and Chinese vessels near the reef, however, forced organizers to reroute the convoy to head straight towards Nanshan. 

Both countries’ coast guards blamed the other for Sunday’s collision, the latest in an escalating series of such conflicts in the disputed sea. Manila also accused Chinese vessels of firing water cannon at its boat s.

Rafaela David, a member of the Atin Ito Coalition that organized the convoy, said earlier the Chinese actions had endangered “the safety of our civilian supply mission.”

“(It) also runs counter to the principles of human rights that the international community upholds, and our rightful claims to the West Philippine Sea,” said David, who is also president of the left-wing political party Akbayan.

The people in the c onvoy included fisherfolk, students and youth leaders.

“We joined the (convoy) … because we need to fight for what is rightfully ours,” said Maureen Ignacio, whose family depends on fishing in Bataan province, near Manila.

Organizers had originally hoped to visit the troops stationed on the BRP Sierra Madre, a World War II-vintage warship grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999.

The rusty hulk has long been a flashpoint for Manila and Beijing, with several recent incidents involving Philippine and Chinese vessels straining diplomatic relations.

But the National Security Council advised the organizers to pass only within the “general vicinity” of the reef, where Chinese vessels regularly patrol.

MANILA, Philippines — Marking Human Rights Day, France and Germany urged the Philippine government yesterday to “redouble” its efforts to ensure accountability and fight impunity with regard to extrajudicial killings that occurred in the war on drugs.

In a joint declaration on the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the embassies of France and Germany in Manila also urged the Philippine government to redouble efforts to “protect (environmental) human rights defenders, journalists and indigenous peoples; and to put an end to the practice of red-tagging.”

“France and Germany remain committed to human rights and the rule of law and wish to continue to strengthen their cooperation in this area,” the Declaration read. 

France and Germany will launch the “Franco-German Human Rights gathering” in the Philippines: a regular discussion inviting relevant actors in the field of human rights to exchange ideas and join forces to achieve the rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings.

The embassies also cited Manila on its regained readiness to engage in a constructive manner with international partners on human rights, with 215 recommendations that the Philippines adopted within its latest Universal Periodic Review Cycle and the visits of several UN special rapporteurs are testament to this new openness.

The 75th anniversary of the UDHR, the embassies said, is a unique opportunity to reaffirm the universality and indivisibility of all human rights, their relevance in the face of current challenges, the necessary support for those who are first defenders, and the need to ensure respect for all rights through justice everywhere and for everyone by fighting against impunity.

Committed to the protection and promotion of all human rights, France and Germany commemorated the adoption of the United Nations UDHR which took place at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948, in order to strongly recall its importance and relevance as an essential basis for the realization of the rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings.

Based on the recognition of “the inherent dignity of all members of the human family and their equal and inalienable rights,” this declaration grants them to each individual, without distinction of skin color, sex, language and religion and without recourse to any other criteria.

“Advocating for the cause of human rights is not only a moral duty and an obligation of international law. This cause also serves the interests of all societies,” the embassies said. 

“Examples from around the world bear witness to this: where human rights are violated, peace and stability cannot be established in the long term. Conversely, when freedom and human dignity are protected, they appear to be (a) source of creativity and prosperity,” they added. — Janvic Mateo, Mark Ernest Villeza

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