MANILA - A Filipino youth group that sailed to the Kalayaan islands in the West Philippine Sea has ended its week-long protest against the reclamation activities of China in the disputed area.
The 47 members of the "Kalayaan Atin Ito" on Friday left the area and sailed back to Puerto Princesa. The group will then head to their respective provinces.
Kalayaan Atin ito coordinator Atty. Vera Joy Ban-eg said other activities are set to follow their "patriotic voyage."
"Uuwi tayo sa mga sariling probinsya natin at doon natin ipagpatuloy yung panawagan natin ng pagkakaisa... Tuluy-tuloy pa rin ang activities natin habang tayo ay naghahanda sa susunod na paglayag natin," she told ABS-CBN News.
Kalayaan islands Mayor Eugenio Bito-Onon expects that the group will have a safe voyage back to the mainland. "Siyempre napakahirap na maalon 'pag maliit ang lantsa at overloaded ... Pero in their case, tao na lang. Halos wala namang mabibigat na mga load," he explained.
He added that the group was able to establish positive ties with his constituents.
"Okay naman iyung pag-stay nila. Wala namang naging mga problema na nag-create sa' min yun doon sa community namin," he said. "At batay sa report sa aking adminsitrative staff doon, hindi naman pinag-alala sila. Nag-ienjoy naman sila sa kanilang encampment doon sa isang part ng beach na malapit sa Navy."
Sugar-like sand, thriving seas: Kalayaan island's hidden gems
China has been "strongly dissatisfied" by the protest, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang claiming that Beijing has "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly islands.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has clarified that it tried to discourage the protest.
DFA spokesperson Charles Jose added that the Manila will continue its Hague tribunal case against China over competing claims in the West Philippine Sea. A final ruling could come within the first half of 2016, he said.
China claims almost all of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have claims.
Manila has been trying to calm tensions heightened by Beijing's rapid expansion in the South China Sea - building seven artificial islands in the disputed waters.
Beijing has not recognized the case before the arbitration court in The Hague. The Philippine government, meanwhile, is confident that international pressure would eventually oblige China to comply with a ruling against it. -- With a report from Rex Ruta, ABS-CBN News; Reuters