Filipino workers suffer harassment in TaiwanBy Yolanda Sotelo
Inquirer Northern Luzon
DAGUPAN CITY—The Philippines’ de facto ambassador to Taiwan has advised thousands of Filipino workers there to eat at home and avoid the streets while emotions run high on the island over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coast guards last week.
Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) Chair Amadeo Perez said after returning to Manila from Taipei late Thursday that the Philippine government has verified at least one attack, in which a Filipino was beaten with a bat.
“He was taken to hospital, and police are investigating. We are documenting the cases,” Perez said.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou on Friday called for calm and promised to protect Filipinos on the island.
“We will continue negotiating the issue with the Philippines and I hope everyone can calmly and peacefully resolve the issue to avoid hurting bilateral ties,” Ma said while meeting international scholars in Taipei.
Ma said he had instructed relevant Taiwanese units to protect Filipinos living and working on the island to ensure they are not harmed.
Perez said Filipinos were being refused service at restaurants and supermarkets, particularly in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where the slain fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng, 65, lived.
“Some restaurants refused to serve food to Filipinos and some supermarkets wouldn’t let Filipinos in to buy groceries. (Taiwanese glare) at Filipinos,” Perez said.
“I advised them to just buy (food and eat at home and avoid the streets),” he said.
“We have received numerous reports of harassment, particularly in Kaohsiung City, where the slain fisherman lived,” he said.
The Meco is verifying the reports, he added.
“The situation is tense. The Filipinos are afraid they might lose their jobs. I advised them to stay calm and never retaliate no matter the provocation,” Perez said.
Hundreds of Taiwanese staged protests outside the Meco office in Taipei on Thursday, burning Philippine flags and pictures of President Aquino.
Taiwan has frozen the hiring of Filipino workers, suspended high-level exchanges, economic and trade exchanges, fishery cooperation and scientific research cooperation projects, and tourist travel to the Philippines because of the killing of Hung by Philippine Coast Guard officers in a shooting in waters off Batanes on May 9.
The Taiwanese military held drills in waters near the Philippines on Thursday and yesterday to show Taiwan’s anger over the incident.
Taiwan brushed aside an apology from President Aquino as insufficient and threatened further retaliatory measures if the Philippines did not formally apologize, compensate the family of Hung, arrest and punish the killers, and start fishery talks between the two sides soon.
Perez said there were additional demands, which he did not specify before reporting to Mr. Aquino
Nearly 87,000 Filipinos work in Taiwan, 10 percent of whom are domestic workers.
Perez said he may recommend the repatriation of Filipinos if the need arises.
“We will not abandon our people,” he added.
Perez said he had received information that factories had issued press statements about cutting Filipino jobs because of the killing of Hung.
He said the factories that issued the statements did not include electronic businesses that employ 25,000 Filipinos.
“We have good workers in the electronic sector. The Taiwanese cannot just fire them or their electronics sector would be paralyzed. But there are factories in other sectors that may send our workers back home,” Perez said.
Despite being a diplomat, Perez has not been spared the ire of the Taiwanese.
He said he had been refused admission at a hotel, which he did not name.
“There was a small hotel that accepted us. But they told us later that they could not accommodate us because there were many reporters outside and their guests were complaining about the noise,” he said.
He said Taiwanese journalists had been hounding him for information since the incident happened.
The circumstances behind the shooting of Hung remain in dispute, though the Philippines acknowledges that its coast guards opened fire on a Taiwanese boat on May 9.
Manila says the action was taken in self-defense to prevent the Taiwanese from ramming the Coast Guard vessel, but Taiwanese fishermen deny the ramming claim.
Both countries are investigating the incident. Fourteen Taiwanese police investigators are in Manila, and Philippine investigators will ask Taiwanese authorities for permission to inspect the fishing boat and interview the crew.
The hiring freeze has brought anxiety to Filipinos waiting to take up jobs in Taiwan.
“We are appealing and hope there will be a solution to this because we are just trying to work for our family,” said Zette Monleon, a factory worker who could not leave for her return trip to Taiwan because she was asked for additional documents, which could take weeks.
Trade between the Philippines and Taiwan is about $11 billion, with a surplus of $6.7 billion in Taiwan’s favor. With reports from AP and AFP