The Philippines and Taiwan have “agreed in principle” to avoid the use of force in fishing disputes, as they begin to resolve a row over the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman in overlapping waters last month.
Officials of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) reached the agreement during their preparatory meeting on fishery cooperation held in Manila on Friday, Meco Chairman Amadeo Perez said on Sunday.
The meeting came as both Manila and Taipei concluded their cooperative investigation of the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-chen, 65, by Filipino coast guards.
The National Bureau of Investigation, after examining evidence and witnesses here and in Taiwan, resolved the case last week, with a recommendation to bring criminal and administrative charges against coast guards who fired on the Taiwanese fishing boat Guan Ta Hsin 28 off Balintang Island on May 9.
Taiwanese investigators who also looked at evidence and examined witnesses here and in their country have not yet announced their conclusions, but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday said she expected the Taiwanese findings not to be too far from the results of the NBI probe.
De Lima submitted the NBI investigative report to President Aquino on Tuesday.
The shooting death of Hung sparked public anger in Taiwan. Taipei demanded an apology from the Philippine government, compensation for Hung’s family, the arrest and punishment of the shooters, and initiation of fishery talks between the two countries.
To pressure the Philippines to comply, Taiwan froze new jobs for Filipino workers and suspended trade and cultural exchanges with the Philippines.
The NBI resolution of the case is understood to be the start of the restoration of good relations between the two countries.
In a phone interview on Sunday, Perez said the Taiwanese government requested to hold talks last week on how the two sides could peacefully enforce their fisheries laws.
The meeting was held on Friday with clearance from President Aquino, Perez said.
Those who attended the meeting from the Philippine side were Perez and technical people from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The Taiwanese side was represented by Samson Wang of Teco, an official from the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice and another from Taiwan’s fisheries department.
Perez said the talks reached an agreement “in principle” not to use force in the implementation of fishery laws in waters between the two countries.
“It’s all right to arrest violators, but there should be no use of unnecessary force,” he explained.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement issued late Saturday that the agreement was aimed at avoiding a recurrence of incidents, such as the death of Hung.
“Both sides have guaranteed to avoid the use of armed force or violence in the implementation of fisheries laws,” it said.
The two sides agreed to share their maritime law enforcement procedures and establish means of notifying each other without delay whenever actions are taken against vessels and crews of the other party, it said.
They also agreed to develop a mechanism for the prompt release of detained fishing vessels and their crews, in line with international practice.
Further meetings would be held on fisheries cooperation, including management and conservation plans, the ministry said.
Perez said the talks went well and he hoped these would lead to a formal agreement on peaceful enforcement of fishery laws by both countries.
He said no date had been set for the next meeting, which would again require clearance from President Aquino.
A formal fisheries agreement between Taiwan and the Philippines would take some time, Perez said.
“There are so many considerations to take into account,” he said. These included discussions of territorial boundaries, an issue he described as “ticklish” and requiring “careful study by both sides.”
The shooting of Hung happened during a high-speed chase between a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel and the Guan Ta Hsin 28 on the Philippine side of the two countries’ overlapping exclusive economic zones.
The NBI probe found that the coast guards involved were criminally liable for Hung’s death.
The Taiwanese investigators found that two rifles were used in the shooting, including an M14 from which the fatal shot was fired.—With a report from AFP