Almost lost in the May 13 midterm election fever was the international incident off Batanes involving the shooting and death of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard.
Taipei wants Manila to apologize, pay compensation to the family of the slain fisherman and turn over to Taiwan the Coast Guard crewman who fired the shots.
This, for protecting our territorial waters and defending themselves against the Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing, which in attempting to escape, tried to ram the maritime patrol boat carrying the Coast Guard crew.
If at all, the Coast Guard men who defended the country’s territory should be given a citation for defending Philippine sovereignty against intruders. This is not the first time Taiwanese fishermen have been caught poaching in our waters. This was, however, the first time Philippine naval personnel fired shots at the intruders.
The Taiwanese fishermen accosted in the waters off Batanes came less than a month after a Chinese fishing boat was also caught by the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea near Palawan. It makes you wonder whether the Taiwanese were continuing China’s spying and surveillance of our coast lines.
Is Taiwan the renegade province that wants to be independent of China, or is it now Beijing’s proxy in the simmering South China Sea territorial dispute? Taiwan has a separate claim on the Paracels, also being claimed by China and Vietnam. It also has an existing claim over the Senkaku /Diaoyu Island being contested by China and Japan.
It will be noted that the word war between Beijing and Taipei is not as strident as it used to be at the height of the Cold War. A thawing of relations between Beijing and Taipei started with a new Taiwanese government in 2008. Although Taiwan remains in the protective umbrella of the US Pacific defense strategy, the once “renegade” province has been pouring foreign direct investments across the traits to the mainland.
In a visit by Manila newsmen to Xiamen, Chinese trade and investment officials themselves told us that Taiwan is one of China’s biggest investors. In 2006, Taiwan cross-straits investments went up by 46 percent with $2.8 billion going into Chinese telecommunications and manufacturing companies.
Manila Economic and Cultural Office Representative Antonio Basilio, who is the country’s de facto ambassador to Taipei, has apologized to Taiwan regarding the shooting incident off Batanes. Because of the Philippines’ One China Policy, what we have in Taipei is not an embassy but MECO which represents Philippine interests in Taiwan. It has a counterpart here called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO).
Basilio should have not apologized to Taiwanese officials. International law was clearly on our side and the Coast Guard acted in self-defense. At the most, he should have just expressed regrets. An apology in diplomatese connotes we were at fault. But surely Basilio must have gotten the word from our spineless Department of Foreign Affairs acting on Malacańang’s bidding.
Poor Tony Basilio. He had to be the messenger of bad news because an apology coming directly from President Aquino or Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario won’t look good in the public’s perception.
Taiwan has threatened the Philippines with economic sanctions, including banning the entry of Filipino workers. While this may hurt families of migrants, Taipei’s exclusion of Filipino workers would also severely affect the operation of their factories. The Taiwanese refuse to accept low wages unlike Filipino workers who settle for less because of the lack of job opportunities at home.
Filipinos numbering about 85,000 are the third-largest group of foreign workers in Taiwan after the Indonesians and the Vietnamese.
Taipei also threatened to ban Filipino workers in Taiwan in the aftermath of the deadly Luneta hostage-taking of Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong tourists in a bus. Taipei relented, after mediation efforts by a Chinese-Filipino businessman.
After Manila’s about-face in not apologizing to Taiwan, the Coast Guard skipper and crewmen involved in the shooting were relieved of their duties. Manila also has formed a committee to inquire into the circumstances of the encounter at sea and draw up measures to preclude a repeat of the incident.
Taiwan, however, appears far from appeased, It’s still considering the recall of the TECO representative in Manila back to Taipei and stop the processing of visa applications of Filipinos to work in the prosperous island state.