Taiwan recalls rep in Manila, freezes OFW hiring

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star

TAIPEI – Taiwan yesterday recalled its representative to the Philippines, froze applications for work permits and ordered military exercises in waters between the two sides, saying Manila’s earlier response to the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman was “informal and insincere.”

Premier Jiang Yi-huah said the government was displeased with the apology delivered last week by Manila Economic and Cultural Office resident representative in Taipei Antonio Basilio.

Taiwan will not accept anything short of a Philippine government apology, he said.

“The shooting was conducted by one of its civil servants, and its government could not evade the responsibility,” Jiang said, adding that Taiwan wants to be informed about whether the culprit would be charged, jailed or dismissed.

In a last ditch effort to ease tensions, MECO chairman Amadeo Perez Jr. – accompanied by MECO director Manuel Dimaculangan – flew to Taipei yesterday to personally deliver President Aquino’s message of apology.

“The President has appointed Perez as his personal representative who will 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,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said at Malacañang.

Taiwan earlier had issued an ultimatum to the Philippines to apologize to the family of the fisherman who died in a shooting last week by the Philippine Coast Guard in waters off the northern Philippines.

“Due to the Philippines government’s insufficient... sincerity and its inconsistency, President Ma Ying-jeou expresses strong dissatisfactions and he cannot accept the reckless and perfunctory responses from the Philippines,” the Presidential Office said in a statement.

After a high-level meeting, it added that Taiwan decided to immediately impose sanctions, including the recall of its representative and a freeze on work permit applications.

More than 85,000 Filipinos work in Taiwan, many as domestic workers.

Further measures could also be imposed, Jiang  told reporters, including an end to visa-free access to Taiwan for Philippine nationals and stopping economic exchanges.

In Manila, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said the effect of Taiwan’s call for a freeze in the hiring of Filipino workers has yet to be felt.

“No effect so far,” said Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz.

But she said they are now eyeing other markets like South Korea and the Middle East if things turn from bad to worse.

Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said “we hope this episode will be resolved to both Taiwan’s and our satisfaction.”

Separately, a Taiwan Defense Ministry official said military vessels and aircraft would be dispatched to the Bashi Channel, which divides Taiwan and the Philippines, to carry out a two-day military drill.

The Philippines and Taiwan, as well as China, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, are embroiled in diplomatic rows over territory in the nearby South China Sea, potentially rich in oil and gas and crisscrossed by crucial shipping lanes.

The disputes have sometimes escalated to confrontation between vessels.

The Philippines and Taiwan have overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in waters to the Philippines’ north.

A Philippine Coast Guard official said one of its vessels, acting under the threat of being rammed, opened fire last Thursday on a Taiwanese fishing boat about 170 nautical miles southeast of Taiwan, killing one person on board.

The Philippines has expressed sympathy over what it called an “unfortunate” incident and promised to conduct an investigation, but has stopped short of an official apology.

‘No harassment please’

Lacierda, meanwhile, appealed to Taiwanese not to harass Filipino workers or tourists in Taipei.

“We appeal to the people of Taiwan, if the reports are true, not to involve our Filipino nationals there,” Lacierda said.

“We appeal for calm. We appeal for sobriety on this unfortunate incident. Let us not involve our Filipino compatriots there. They are there working and they are there working for an honest living. So we ask them not to involve our Filipino citizens,” he said.

He also urged Taipei to reconsider its decision to stop hiring of Filipino workers.

“We will certainly hope that they will revisit their decision. But, nonetheless, the Philippine government is preparing for the contingencies,” he said.

“We certainly would hope that the authorities in Taiwan would see this as a sincere gesture. As we have seen over the news, they claimed that this is insincere. Far from being insincere, we have time and again expressed our deep regret and apology to the family of Mr. Hung Shi-chen,” Lacierda said.

Legarda, for her part, said it’s also not in the interest of Taiwan to push ahead with its planned sanctions, considering that the Philippines had already apologized.

“It is regrettable that Taiwan has seen these efforts as falling short of its expectations. It is vital that the lines of communication between our government and Taiwan are kept open with the view to resolving the issue in a peaceful manner,” she said.

“It serves no valid purpose for Taiwan to impose sanctions against our workers in Taiwan or to conduct naval drills near Philippine waters. This can only further complicate the issue,” she pointed out.

Lacierda also said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been under instructions since Monday to investigate the May 9 incident off Batanes.

“The NBI has given this case the highest priority. We understand the grief and hurt of the family and of the people of Taiwan over this unfortunate loss and we empathize with them,” he said over state-run PTV-4 and dzRB radio.

“Upon orders from the President, the NBI has already started the investigation and is committed to a thorough, exhaustive, impartial and expeditious investigation of the incident,” Lacierda said. “That is our position, it is not because Taiwan said so.”

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, when asked for an update on the NBI probe, said, “I can’t reveal any information gathered by the NBI at this point. This is a very sensitive matter. We want to be careful so as not to aggravate the situation.” NBI is under the DOJ.

NBI director Nonnatus Cesar Rojas said speed was of the essence.

“We have to do this investigation as fast as we can. We are ready with this. We are all out in our efforts and this would involve as many bureau personnel, as much resources we can in order to have this finished as soon as possible to come up with a credible and exhaustive result,” he said.

Rojas, however, added that this would not sacrifice “thoroughness and completeness of the investigation.”

Earlier, the government – through MECO’s Basilio – expressed its “heartfelt sorrow on the unfortunate situation that occurred during one of the anti-illegal fishing patrols conducted by a Philippine fishery law enforcement vessel (MCS 3001).”

Malacañang earlier maintained that the Taiwanese ship involved in the May 9 incident was poaching in Philippine waters.

Meanwhile, the Philippine military would observe and try to learn from a naval exercise being planned by Taiwan near the country’s maritime borders.

“For sure, our own people will be around to see how they will do it. It would be a learning experience for us if we see how they execute their own naval warfare,” a security official who asked not be named said.

But he stressed they were hoping diplomacy would prevail.

Philippine Navy officials earlier said movements of foreign ships in the country’s northern maritime borders were being closely monitored.

“We have our naval station in Batanes,” said Lt. Command Gregory Gerald  Fabic, Navy spokesman, on Tuesday. – With Delon Porcalla, Mayen Jaymalin, Rudy  Santos, Edu Punay, Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan, AP










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