Top Stories

Filipino workers paying the price for Malacañang’s bungling

commentary logo



Filipino workers in Taipei. From Want China Times.IT took a week for President Aquino to realize that the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by a member of the Philippine Coast Guard team in the disputed waters of South China Sea could lead to serious repercussions for the country.

On the seventh day  of the incident, President Aquino last Wednesday sent as his personal representative Amadeo R. Perez, chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office “to convey his and the Filipino people’s deep regret and apology to the family of Mr. Hung Shi-chen as well as to the people of Taiwan over the unfortunate and unintended loss of life.”

Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lin refused to meet Perez, who was just received by Foreign Affairs Director-General Benjamin Ho.

Hung Shi Chen, was the 65-year old fisherman who was killed when the a member of the Philippine Coast Guard team that was manning the ship owned by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, fired upon what they considered as an intruding boat into Philippine territory about 10 a.m. of May 9, 2013.

This latest foreign relations problem shows that Malacañang has not learned  from  the 2010 Rizal Park hostage  crisis.

There was a quotation in a news item by Agence France Presse attributed to PCG Spokesman Armand Balilo that “If somebody died, they (the family) deserve our sympathy but not an apology.”

Balilo said he was misquoted. He clarified that he was asked by a reporter who came late if there was an apology issued during the press conference and he replied in Taglish that what they issued was a statement of sympathy, not an apology.

There’s a whale of a difference in what Balilo said and the quote in the news item. Lost in translation?

It’s unfortunate that, that statement was what angered Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeo, who was quoted in Taipei Times as saying, “The Philippine government’s attitude is outrageous and unacceptable.”

It didn’t help at all that President Aquino, who was in the final stretch of the campaign for the PNoy Team senatorial ticket, didn’t make any move like send a highly- credible private representative to President Ma to explain what they were doing about the incident – if they were doing anything at all – in the seven days that outrage was building up in Taiwan.

Last Sunday, Taiwan upped  the ante and issued a 72-hour ultimatum reiterating its demand for a formal apology, arrest those responsible for the death of a Taiwanese fisherman, and compensate the victim’s family.

Immediately, Deputy Presidential Spokesman Abigail Valte announced that Antonio Basilio, resident representative of the MECO in Taiwan, “has visited the family of the victim and extended condolences and offered his apologies.”

Basilio clarified that his apology was to the family and not the formal apology demanded by the Taiwan government from the Philippine government. Not surprisingly, it was not good enough for Taiwan as it did not come from a high enough authority and lacked “sincerity”, President’s Ma’s spokeswoman said.

Aquino waited for the 72-hour ultimatum to expire and Taiwan ordered the suspension of the hiring of Filipino workers (about 2,500 monthly are added to the 85,000 Filipinos currently working in Taiwan), recalled their representative in Manila, Raymond L.S. Wang, and sent back to Manila Antonio Basilio.

Taiwan rejected Aquino’s much-delayed apology finding unacceptable the excuse that the loss of life was “unintended.”

Taiwan  imposed more sanctions including a red travel alert urging Taiwanese not to visit the Philippines and the suspension of exchanges between high-level officials, as well as a halt to exchanges on trade and academic affairs.

Taiwan also wants to start talks on fisheries agreement between Taipei and Manila. This is problematic because government-to-government accord would violate the Philippines’ One-China policy.

All statements by Philippine officials claim that the Taiwanese fishing vessel intruded into Philippine waters. Taiwan, on the other hand, said the fishing vessel was within their Exclusive Economic Zone.

Both are correct because the maritime boundary between the Philippines and Taiwan in that area is less than the 200 nautical mile EEZ provided in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Separate investigations have started . It should answer a number of questions on the incident like why did the Taiwanese fishing vessel, which is just a third in size of the BFAR ship, sustain 40 to 50 bullet holes?

This is important because as lawyer Harry Roque said, UNCLOS prohibits the use of unnecessary use of force in dealing with illegal fishermen. “In fact,” he said, “ the UNCLOS provides that fishermen caught illegally fishing in a state’s exclusive economic zone should not even be detained or charged criminally. The only leeway granted to a party state is to apprehend the vessel which, in turn, must be immediately released upon posting of bond.”