PH, Taiwan on way to mending relations

Both sides to meet in July on fishery deal

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The Philippines and Taiwan are on the way to restoring their good relations after Friday’s breakthrough fishery meeting aimed at preventing the recurrence of violent confrontations in overlapping waters, Manila’s representative to Taipei said Monday.

Representatives of the two countries are meeting again in early July to continue negotiating on fishing operations in their overlapping exclusive economic zones, but international law expert Harry Roque says the talks should be aimed at concluding an agreement between the Philippines and a local government of China to avoid violating the Philippines’ one-China policy.

Under that policy, the Philippines has diplomatic relations only with China, which considers Taiwan its province.

But the Philippines maintains economic and cultural relations with Taiwan, though not through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) but through the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), an agency under the Office of the President, with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) as its Taiwanese counterpart.

Antonio I. Basilio, managing director and resident representative to Meco, said on Monday that the National Bureau of Investigation’s resolution of the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-chen by Filipino coast guards off Balintang Island on May 9 was the “last piece” in the two countries’ efforts to put their once good relations together again.

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 the initiation of fishery cooperation talks between the two countries.

To pressure Manila to comply, Taipei froze new jobs for Filipinos in Taiwan and suspended trade and cultural exchanges with the Philippines.

The preparatory meeting on fishery cooperation came two days after the NBI, which investigated the shooting death of Hung, recommended the prosecution of the coast guards involved.

Basilio said Taiwan demanded that charges be brought against the coast guards if found liable.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima submitted the NBI report on the investigation to President Aquino on Tuesday.

Aquino will decide what charges to bring against the shooters.

No use of force

Basilio said Friday’s meeting in Manila of Philippine and Taiwanese officials decided to make an agreement not to use force in fishing disputes and prevent the recurrence of the May 9 incident that cost Hung’s life.

“The first objective is to clarify procedures and protocol in our overlapping waters,” Basilio said. “We plan to start a notification system where each of us has to alert the other in case fishermen are caught poaching in the overlapping waters. We used to have an informal system. This will make it more structured and there will be no more use of force.”

Basilio said the two sides were looking to release fishermen caught poaching instead of holding them and their vessels and illegal catch.

He said the two sides were considering fining or requiring poachers to post US$50,000 to US$100,000 bond, while keeping their vessels and illegal catch in the apprehending country.

“It’s a very stiff fine and it doesn’t preclude us from detaining their boats,” Basilio said.

Up to three Taiwanese fishermen are caught poaching in waters off Batanes every year, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Early accord

Basilio said he expected Taiwan and the Philippines to be able to conclude a fishery cooperation agreement in less than the 17 years it took Taiwan and Japan to sign a similar deal, which took effect in April.

Basilio said there was no territorial dispute between the Philippines and Taiwan in their overlapping exclusive economic zones, unlike between Taiwan and Japan, which have rival claims to a group of islands in the East China Sea.

Basilio said Philippine and Taiwanese representatives would meet again in Taipei in early July.

Benjamin Ho, director general of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Sunday that the agenda for the second preparatory meeting would include establishing regulations on fishing order and defining the areas in which fishermen could operate.

The China Post daily in Taiwan quoted Ho as saying the meeting would be attended by officials from the fishery, foreign affairs and maritime patrol agencies of the two countries.

Reports on shooting

“Our goal is to sign a fishery agreement with the Philippines,” Ho said. “We will continue to negotiate with the Philippines (on that issue).”

Asked about the investigations of the shooting death of Hung, Ho said both Taiwan and the Philippines had completed their own reports on the incident.

Foreign Minister David Lin also said the reports were expected to be released “soon.”

Roque said the start of the fishery talks was a positive step toward restoring good relations between the Philippines and Taiwan.

But he said the talks “may violate the one-China policy.”

“All talks with Taiwan should be (done with Taiwan as) part of China,” he said.

“The alternative is to craft (the proposed fishery cooperation accord) as an agreement with a local government of China,” he said.—With a report from The China Post/ANN

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • zxy-yxz

    We definitely need to go by the book. If Taiwan is entitled
    give it to them. That overlapping border cut if off in half in this way we
    worry our side and they worry their own side.

  • diverme

    NBI probe points to Coast Guard negligence

    By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

    Posted at 05/25/2013 12:19 PM | Updated as of 05/25/2013 12:19 PM

    MANILA, Philippines – Initial findings in the investigation
    into the fatal shooting of a suspected Taiwanese poacher off Batanes
    last May 9 indicate criminal negligence on the part of Philippine Coast
    Guard (PCG) personnel involved, a source privy to the probe said
    yesterday.

    This developed as Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said a team of
    National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents is ready to fly to Taiwan
    and is just awaiting information on some “arrangements” with Taipei
    through the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO).

    De Lima said the NBI has “bits and pieces of initial findings” and is beginning to draft a report.

    The STAR learned from a source that coast guard personnel manning the
    Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) patrol vessel may face
    criminal and administrative charges for possible violations of rules of
    engagement, excessive use of force, and neglect of duty.

    PCG personnel admitted having fired warning shots at two Taiwanese
    vessels some 39 nautical miles off Bantayan Island in the Balintang
    Channel. Authorities said such warning shot is not allowed under the
    rules of engagement.

    There is excessive use of force if the 50 bullet holes reportedly
    found on the fishing vessel can be proven to have come from the firearms
    of PCG personnel.

    In its incident report submitted to the NBI, the PCG confirmed that
    its personnel left the site after firing at the fishing vessel without
    checking on the victim.

    The source said they have to wait for the findings of the NBI team from Taiwan before making conclusions.

    De Lima again refused to confirm the “initial findings,” but said NBI
    agents are expected to gather enough evidence in Taiwan to “validate
    these preliminary results.”

    She also said there’s no more stopping the flight of the NBI team to Taipei.

    “I have standing clearance for the NBI team to leave anytime once all
    the needed arrangements have been made through MECO in Taiwan,” De Lima
    told reporters.

    MECO head Amadeo Perez, however, said visas had already been issued
    to eight NBI agents and forensic experts and that De Lima already agreed
    to the demand of Taiwanese investigators that they be allowed to see
    the video footage of the May 9 encounter.

    “Secretary De Lima said she did not refuse to show them the video.
    She said the Taiwanese investigators would be allowed to see the video
    once their delegation is completed since some of them were still on
    their way here,” Perez explained in a phone interview. “It would be up
    to Sec. de Lima when she wants the team to leave.”

    But when asked for confirmation, the justice secretary replied: “I
    myself am waiting for word from MECO. I will announce once there’s
    development.”

    Earlier, De Lima said she did not want the flight schedule announced
    to prevent the investigation from getting undue media attention.

    Self-defense

    Meanwhile, the PCG released a three page incident report detailing
    how its men had to defend themselves from the Taiwanese boat’s hostile
    maneuver.

    “One of the Taiwanese vessel maneuvered to ram our starboard bow.
    This unit executed reverse (gear) to avoid collision,” the report read.

    In its initial report, the NBI said MCS-3001, a 35-meter patrol
    vessel jointly manned by PCG and BFAR personnel, set sail in the
    northern part of Batanes last May 8 to conduct patrol and surveillance.

    The next day, the PCG-BFAR crew spotted several radio beacons with
    two floating buoy markers some 39 nautical miles east of Balintang
    Islands. They suspected that the buoys were markers for several
    Taiwanese fishing vessels. Soon after spotting the buoys, the PCG-BFAR
    vessel was able to find the location of the Taiwanese fishing boats.

    “While on meeting situation, this unit then sounded warning through
    PA system and blow horn for the Taiwanese fishing vessel to stop for the
    conduct of fishing… (the PCG) fired warning shots to alert the fishing
    vessel until the fishing vessel stopped and one of the crew of the
    fishing vessel went outside,” the PCG said.

    The PCG report said that when its vessel got near the fishing boat
    Guang Ta Hsin-28, the latter revved up its engine and made threatening
    moves.

    The PCG crew fired another round of warning shots but the Taiwanese
    vessel engaged the PCG-BFAR vessel instead in a high-speed chase.

    This prompted the MCS-3001 to open fire at Guang Ta Hsin-28 with the
    intention of disabling its engine but accidentally killed Taiwanese
    fisherman Hung Shih-cheng.

    “To stop the fishing vessel, this unit announced to fire for effects
    the engine side section of said Taiwanese fishing vessel to immobilize
    her (boat) and stop her (boat) engine,” the report read.

    While chasing the Guang Ta Hsin, the MCS-3001 crew spotted at least two unidentified boats.

    With the presence of two unidentified boats in the vicinity, MCS-3001 disengaged from the chase.

    Easing tension

    Judging from church attendance, threats to Filipinos in Taiwan have lessened, a Taipei-based Filipino priest said yesterday.

    Fr. Leonilo Mantilla, parish priest of St. Christopher’s Church in
    Taipei’s Zhongshan District, told Radio Veritas that church attendance
    is back to normal some two weeks after parishioners avoided going out of
    their homes for fear of reprisals from Taiwanese following the May 9
    incident. Almost all of St. Christopher’s parishioners are Filipinos,
    according to Mantilla.

    “At this moment, the situation is very cool and the tensions have
    eased,” Mantilla said, adding that Taiwanese local officials were
    helping ease the tension. — With Evelyn Macairan

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