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Key to normalization of PH-Taiwan relations: release of probe report

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By ELLEN TORDESILLAS

Protest rally  in Taiwan over death of fisherman by Philippine Coast Guard. Photo by CNA.IS President Aquino going to announce at his fourth State of the Nation address what he is going to do with the investigation report of the National Bureau of Investigation on the May 9, 2013 incident in Balintang Channel where a member of the Philippine Coast Guard shot and killed a Taiwanese fisherman?

The NBI report, submitted to Aquino June 11, recommended the filing of administrative and criminal charges against the Coast Guard personnel, whose action caused serious diplomatic, political and economic problems for the country.

Although it has not been officially released, leaks to media, which were not denied by the NBI, revealed that the killing of Taiwanese fisherman  Hung Shih-cheng, 65, was unwarranted.

Sources said testimonies of personnel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources  belied the claim of PCG that the 15-ton fiberglass made fishing vessel was ramming the 110-ton BFAR- owned  ship, to justify the shooting of the fishing boat.

Taiwanese President Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeo, under pressure from an outraged constituency, made four demands from the Philippine government: formal apology, investigate the shooting and punish the guilty, compensation, and fisheries agreement.

Taiwanese meanwhile imposed sanctions: a freeze in the hiring of Filipino workers and a travel alert.

The sanctions translate to a loss of millions, even billions, of pesos. In meant thousands of Filipinos remaining jobless because some 2,500 job applications are processed by Taiwan from Filipino applicants monthly. Those new hires join the more than 100,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan.

The travel alert dissuaded Taiwanese, who comprise the fifth largest tourist groups in the Philippines, from coming to the Philippines. Instead of Boracay, Palawan and Cebu, they went to Thailand.

President Aquino complied with the formal apology and Taiwan recognized it. The Taiwanese, however, took exception to the phrase “unintended loss of life” in Aquino’s apology.

The key to the compliance of the four demands and the normalization of Philippine-Taiwan relations is the release of the investigation reports of both parties.  It was agreed by both Taiwan and the Philippines that immediately after the Philippines releases the NBI report, Taiwan will also release theirs.

The probe reports will clarify if the shooting was really “unintended”, as Aquino claimed.

The findings will be the basis of legal actions that the family of Hung would take. That would also determine the next steps to take with the Coast Guard personnel involved. They have been suspended and their status is in limbo.

The release of the findings will also help in determining the compensation for the victim.

The agreement of the Philippines to a PH-Taiwan accord is a major victory for Taiwan, because under the One-China policy that the country has adopted, relations with Taiwan, which is considered by China as its province, should be limited to people-to-people relations.  China has, in fact, protested the planned accord.

At the initial meeting on the fisheries agreement held in Manila last month, both sides agreed not to use armed force against civilian vessels; share maritime law enforcement procedures; establish means for notifying each other without delay whenever there are arrests;   prompt release of detained fishing vessels and their crews as provided for in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

There is no schedule of the next meeting pending the release of the probe results.

Meanwhile, processing of  job applications of Filipino workers are also on hold.