Philippines lets Taiwan ultimatum lapse
MANILA, Philippines—As Taipei’s ultimatum for the Philippines to apologize over the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman lapsed on Tuesday, Malacañang opted for prudence for fear of exacerbating the situation, and said the government’s response would be coursed through “proper channels.”
“Our position is that we would rather defer any comment. But if there is a response, yes, there will be a response and it will be handed through the proper channels and not through media,” Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a press briefing.
Lacierda said late Tuesday night that the Philippines’ de facto ambassador to Taipei, Antonio Basilio, would deliver the Philippines’ response to his Taiwanese counterpart.
Tensions escalated between Taipei and Manila the past week over the May 9 incident in which a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman was shot dead after the Philippine Coast Guard fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat that it said had strayed into Philppine waters.
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou gave the Philippines until Tuesday to respond to its demand that the government apologize for the death of the fisherman, prosecute the suspects and compensate the dead man’s family, or face the consequences.
Speaking separately, Taiwan’s deputy foreign minister Joseph Shih stressed that the Philippines has to officially apologize for the killing. Taiwan will not accept an expression of regret instead of an apology, he said.
Taipei has threatened to freeze all applications of Filipino workers, recall Taiwan’s envoy in Manila and expel the Philippine envoy in Taipei.
The incident has sparked public outrage in Taiwan, where hundreds of angry fishermen burned Philippine flags and hurled eggs at the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), the Philippines’ de facto embassy in Taipei.
Taiwan’s government has come under pressure from the opposition and the media to take action.
President Aquino declined to comment on the demands by Taiwan at the weekend, preferring to let diplomats handle the dispute. “If we comment on that (at the presidential) level, we guarantee the issue will escalate,” he said.
The Taipei-based China Post reported Tuesday that Basilio, the Meco managing director and resident representative, had returned to Manila on Monday, one day before Ma’s deadline.
Basilio told the Taipei media that a joint investigation to be conducted by authorities of both countries would determine the truth of the incident, the paper reported.
Taiwan Foreign Minister David Lin said Basilio had told him that he would discuss Taiwan’s demands with his government at a meeting scheduled Tuesday.
The Philippine government said on Sunday that Basilio had visited the family of the fisherman and “extended condolences and apologies.”
Responding to questions from Chinese reporters from Hong Kong and China in Malacañang, Lacierda said the President had ordered an investigation of the incident, the details of which would be “announced at the proper time.”
Lacierda said the government was willing to release a video footage of the incident taken by the Coast Guard.
“I think that should not be a problem. It will be part of the investigation,” he said.
He dismissed speculations that the country’s leaders had been too preoccupied with last Monday’s elections to attend to the case.
“We are not neglecting our duties. The national elections are very, very important for us. It will determine our governance for the next three years and, certainly, this is very important for us. This is not, however, to deny the fact that there is an incident that happened last May 8 and that we recognize that particular incident and we are handling that,” he said.
He said the Philippines valued “people-to-people exchanges” with Taiwan.
Taiwan on Tuesday stepped up pressure on the Philippines, saying it would conduct a naval drill in waters near the Philippines if Manila did not officially apologize for the killing.
The defense ministry said the military was prepared to conduct an exercise in the waters where the shooting occurred.
“We’ve prepared ourselves and staging an exercise in the Bashi Channel is one of the military’s options. Whether or not to conduct the drill would be up to the reaction of the Philippine government,” a defense official told AFP.
The official declined to provide details but the state Central News Agency said the exercise would be held on Thursday and involved a Kidd-class destroyer, a Perry-class frigate and three coast guard frigates.
A number of fighter jets would also be involved in the drill which would for the first time target the Philippines as the enemy, it said.
The United States voiced regret over the shooting death of the Taiwanese fisherman, but stopped short of condemning the incident.
“We regret the tragic death of a Taiwan fishing boat master during a May 9 confrontation at sea with a Philippine patrol vessel,” said US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
She told reporters the US was urging all sides to “to refrain from provocative actions.”
“The United States has been in touch with both the Philippine government and the Taiwan authorities regarding this incident. And we welcome the Philippine government’s pledge to conduct a full and transparent investigation,” she said.
The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions around the region over rival claims to the nearby South China Sea (West Philippine Sea). China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims to parts of the sea.—With a report from AFP
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