MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines on Thursday braced itself for the fallout a day after Taiwan enacted a second wave of sanctions against the country to show dissatisfaction with Manila’s responses to its demands involving the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coast guards in the Bashi Channel last week.
President Aquino formally apologized on Wednesday for the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, but Taiwan rejected the apology and proceeded to take retaliatory measures against the Philippines.
The new sanctions included a travel alert urging Taiwanese not to visit the Philippines, suspension of high-level exchanges, economic and trade exchanges, fishery cooperation and scientific research cooperation projects, and the launch of a military drill in waters near northern Philippines.
The military exercises began Thursday, with two Lafayette frigates, one Kidd-class destroyer, two missile boats and a number of Mirage and Taiwan-made jet fighters taking part in maneuvers intended to show Taiwan’s anger over the killing of Hung and to boost President Ma Ying-jeou’s sagging approval rating.
In Manila, the military declined to comment on the Taiwanese drill, saying it did not know whether the Taiwanese vessels were in international or Philippine waters.
On Wednesday, Taiwan froze the hiring of Filipino migrant workers and demanded that the Philippines formally apologize for the killing of Hung, compensate his family, punish the killers, and start fishing talks between the two sides soon.
After learning Thursday that Taiwan rejected President Aquino’s apology, Malacañang said it had “gone an extra mile” to try to appease Taipei and expressed concern that a special envoy sent to the Taiwanese capital on Wednesday had been rebuffed.
Manila Economic and Cultural Office Chairman Amadeo Perez traveled to Taipei on Wednesday carrying a letter of apology from President Aquino but failed to see the Taiwanese foreign minister and Hung’s family.
“The President sent a personal representative to extend his apology to the family of Mr. Hung Shih-chen, and we have acted uprightly and decently as a respectable member of the international community,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
Lacierda did not say whether Perez’s mission was the last for Manila in seeking to appease Taipei.
“We’re prepared for contingencies,” he said, but did not make clear whether he was referring to an expected backlash on the 42,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan.
Clarifying Taiwan’s labor sanction, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said Taipei did not freeze but only slowed down the hiring of Filipino workers.
“Taiwan is still open to accepting Filipino workers, although at a slower pace,” Baldoz said in a phone interview.
The new tensions between the Philippines and Taiwan have placed their common ally, the United States, into something of a bind. The Department of State said on Wednesday that it was concerned by the increase in tensions between its two close partners and urged them to resolve their differences as expeditiously as they could.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas on Thursday lauded President Aquino for apologizing for the killing of Hung and said he was confident that the two sides would eventually iron out this rough patch in their relationship.
Perez issued a statement saying he went to Taipei to convey Aquino’s and the Filipinos’ “deep regret and apology (for) the unfortunate and unintended loss of life” as Philippine authorities enforced fisheries laws last Thursday.
He said the Philippines was ready to give financial assistance to Hung’s family “as a token of solidarity and as an expression of sympathy of the Filipino people for the demise of Mr. Hung.”
Perez said he handed Aquino’s letter to Benjamin Ho, director general of the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Wednesday night.
The Taiwanese newspaper, China Post, reported Thursday that Premier Jiang Yi-huah was disappointed that Malacañang called the killing of Hung “unfortunate” and “unintended.”
“We cannot accept this kind of explanation. The bullet-riddled boat is evidence that it was an act of strafing. Although the Philippine government issued a formal apology, they also claimed that it was unintended and unfortunate incident. We think they are attempting to mitigate the severity of the incident and divert people’s attention. Furthermore, their ambiguous response to our demands shows that they are insincere in their apology,” Jiang said.
Taiwan on Tuesday ordered home the Philippines’ de facto ambassador to Taipei, Antonio Basilio, but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), which still has to say anything about the fresh tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines, had not acknowledged it as an expulsion.
Lacierda could not say if Basilio had been expelled, saying he learned about Basilio’s return to Manila only from the news.
President Aquino has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the killing of Hung and resolve the case as soon as possible.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters on Thursday that the NBI investigation was “basically a fact-finding one” to determine the “culpability and liability” of the coast guards involved in the shooting death of Hung.
“What [made them shoot]? Why did someone die?” De Lima said, explaining the objective of the NBI investigation.
China Post reported that a team of Taiwanese investigators had arrived in Manila to join the Philippine investigation, but De Lima said she was not aware that Taiwan had asked for a joint investigation.
De Lima said she did not think the government would agree to a joint investigation.
“We are a sovereign country, we have our own processes, we have our own justice system, and we are already conducting our own investigation. We would not want to have anyone interfering in the NBI investigation,” she said.
The government has relieved 11 coast guards and two Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) employees involved in the killing.
Video of incident
A video footage of the incident has been submitted to the NBI.
Virgilio Mendez, NBI deputy director for regional services, confirmed Thursday that the bureau had the video, but declined to speak about its content, as this still needed verification.
He said the relieved coastguards and BFAR employees would appear at the NBI on Friday for questioning on the incident.—With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Tarra Quismundo, Nancy C. Carvajal, Tina G. Santos, AP and China Post/ANN