Manila, Taipei agree on ‘cooperative’ probe
The Philippines and Taiwan on Monday agreed on a cooperative investigation into the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino Coast Guards, which had led to fresh cross-channel tensions and harassment of Filipino workers in Taiwan.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters that the cooperation, agreed on during a meeting between National Bureau of Investigation officials and Taiwanese prosecutors on Monday, could ease tensions between the Philippines and Taiwan.
De Lima said the Philippines remained adamant about not agreeing to a joint investigation, which its one-China policy did not allow, and instead agreed to a cooperative investigation.
She said Taiwanese authorities agreed to allow an NBI team to go to Taiwan to inspect the Taiwanese fishing boat, the Guang Ta Hsin 28, that the Philippine Coast Guard vessel, the MCS-3001, raked with gunfire during a chase off Balintang Island on May 9.
In return, De Lima said, she agreed to Taiwan’s request to be allowed to inspect the MCS-3001, which the Philippine Coast Guard jointly operates with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
“I see nothing wrong in accommodating that request,” De Lima said.
The NBI will set the date for its investigative team’s departure for Taiwan, she said.
She said the NBI investigation was almost complete and the results of the inspection of the Guang Ta Hsin 28 in Taiwan would close the probe.
The NBI wants a new autopsy to find out how Hung Shih-chen died but this should first be approved by the fisherman’s family, she said.
A premature promise of a joint investigation by a Philippine official had been brushed aside by President Aquino, leading to criticism in Taiwan that he went back on his word about such an investigation.
The President apologized to Taiwan on Wednesday for the killing of Hung but made no reference to a joint investigation.
His deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said Monday that the letter of apology was carried to Taiwan by Amadeo Perez Jr., chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), the Philippines’ de facto embassy in Taipei.
But Antonio Basilio, the permanent representative in Meco, handed a letter to the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice, promising a joint investigation.
Valte said only the letter carried by Perez was authorized. The President wants the other letter explained, she added.
Basilio said he never mentioned a joint investigation in his May 10 letter and in another letter, dated May 14, to Taiwanese officials.
He said he raised the idea of investigators from Taipei and Manila getting equal access to evidence and witnesses, which could have been misinterpreted by the Taiwanese.
“What I said is that you will have access to evidence and your team will coordinate with us and vice versa,” Basilio said in a phone interview.
A team of Taiwanese investigators arrived in Manila last week to look into the killing of Hung. They said Basilio had agreed to a joint investigation and showed his letter during a news conference on Saturday.
Led by Chen Wen-chi, director of Taiwan’s Department of International and Cross-Strait Legal Affairs, the Taiwanese probers said their finding was that the Filipino Coast Guards intentionally killed Hung.
The Taiwanese investigators returned to Taipei on the same day, dissatisfied with the Philippine government for its lack of cooperation.
“I guess when they went home, they had to explain themselves and I was used to justify [their position],” Basilio said.
Malacañang said Basilio remained the country’s permanent representative in Meco.
The killing of Hung, 65, has sparked a major diplomatic row between Taiwan and the Philippines, and public anger in Taiwan that has led to harassment and attacks on Filipino workers on the island.
Meco reported Monday that a third Filipino had been assaulted in Taiwan as Vice President Jejomar Binay reiterated his appeal to the Taiwanese government to protect Philippine nationals there.
In a letter to the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (Teco, Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Manila), Binay asked the Taiwanese government to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks on Filipinos.
“[Filipino workers] are there only to earn an honest living for their families and work harmoniously with the Taiwanese people,” Binay said in the letter to Raymond Wang, Teco representative.
“They should be spared [retaliation in] political conflicts,” Binay said. “Likewise, I trust that your government will make those who took part in the reported assault [on Filipinos] accountable in a court of law.”
Teco on Monday reported that the first Filipino to be attacked in Taiwan had withdrawn his complaint against his assailant and received NT$120,000 (P164,000) in compensation.
Its political officer, David Chien, identified the Filipino only as “Roger” and showed reporters a picture of the migrant worker smiling and shaking hands with his attackers.
The Filipino was hit with a baseball bat by a group of Taiwanese teenagers at the height of protests in Taipei last week over the killing of Hung.
Intention to kill
In a news conference on Sunday, the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice presented evidence that Philippine Coast Guards intentionally targeted the crew of the Guang Ta Hsin 28.
Taiwanese justice officials showed pictures and said that of the 45 bullet holes found on the boat, 24 were on the cabin, where the crew took cover.
The 24 hits on the cabin suggested that the Coast Guards fired on the boat’s crew with the “intention to kill.”
The officials said the fishing boat was moving when the attack occurred and that the number of bullets that missed the vessel was unknown.
Why did they leave?
Valte said the President had a question about the shooting of the Taiwanese fishing boat and the behavior of the Coast Guards.
“After the Coast Guards had effectively neutralized the other vessel by firing at the [engine], why did they leave?” Valte quoted Aquino during a briefing on the incident.
In their report on the incident, the 11 Coast Guards involved in the incident said they acted in “self-defense.”
They said the Guang Ta Hsin 28 tried to ram into their vessel in Philippine waters and then fled. They gave chase, firing at the boat’s engine to stop it, they said.
Hung, a resident of the southern port city of Kaohsiung, was hit and killed.—With reports from TJ Burgonio, Tarra Quismundo, Nancy Carvajal and China Post/ANN
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