Palace mum if it will do more to appease Taiwan
The Palace on Thursday said the government had already “gone the extra mile” to meet Taiwan’s demand that it apologize for the May 9 shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman after Taipei snubbed the personal envoy of President Benigno Aquino III and announced more sanctions against the Philippines.
Asked if the Aquino administration is planning to take any more steps to appease Taiwan, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said: “ I think the question has a premise that we have to appease them. We did what a decent member, a respectable member of the international community should have done.”
He said he was not in a position to say whether the failed mission of Manila Economic and Cultural Office chairman Amadeo Perez to Taipei was a last-ditch effort on the part of the Aquino administration.
Perez was supposed to meet with Foreign Minister David Lin, but was told instead to meet with one of his subordinates, Benjamin Ho, of the ministry’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs office.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency also reported that Perez was denied a request to visit the family of the fisherman who was shot dead, Hung Shih-Chen, and would leave Thursday after failing in his mission to resolve the diplomatic row over the killing.
Perez had planned to go to Siaoliouchiou Island off Pingtung County in southern Taiwan to personally apologize to the family, said.
Siaoliouchiou township chief Tsai Tien-yu. However, Tsai said Perez should not proceed because the Philippine government had not answered Taiwan’s demand for a formal apology, compensation for the victim’s family, a promise to bring those responsible to justice, and the start of fishery negotiations.
While apologizing for the fisherman’s death, the Palace remained firm that the shooting was the result of a law enforcement operation within Philippine waters.
Lacierda added that under Philippine laws, there is a presumption of poaching when foreign vessels are found within the country’s territorial waters.
The Palace earlier said that the fishing vessel kept on ramming the Philippine Coast Guard ship despite repeated warning shots, prompting the PCG personnel to fire on the engine portion of the Taiwanese boat.
The Palace has not repeated that claim since Taiwan announced the first set of sanctions, which included the cancellation of all work visas for Filipinos.
In his meeting with Ho, Perez said President Aquino has already ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the maritime incident.
“We understand the grief and hurt of the family and of the people of Taiwan over this unfortunate loss and we wish to reaffirm the high regard and respect of the people of the Philippines for the people of Taiwan,” Perez added.
Mr. Aquino has already ordered government agencies to prepare contingency measures amid the sanctions imposed by Taipei.
“We have already prepared for the contingencies. For instance, the red travel alert will not only hurt us, it will hurt both countries. It does not do anyone any good. Travel from their end will be affected as well. Their airlines will be affected. So does it help both countries when you do a travel ban?” Lacierda said.
Taiwan’s military on Thursday conducted exercises in waters between Taiwan and the Philippines, close to the spot where Filipino Coast Guard personnel killed the Taiwanese fisherman last week.
Two Lafayette frigates, one Kidd-class destroyer, two missile boats and assorted Mirage and locally produced jet fighters took part in the drill, underscoring Taiwan’s anger over the incident, which has dominated local media coverage for the past week.
The controversy seemed certain to benefit President Ma Ying-jeou, desperately in need of a public relations victory following a protracted economic slowdown that has helped depress his once buoyant approval rating to new lows that were in the mid-teens as of last week.
Ma is also likely to be aided by the seemingly inflexible attitude taken by his premier, who on Wednesday brushed aside an apology by Manila — the second in 24 hours — as insufficient and insincere. As a result, a series of Taiwanese sanctions imposed on the Philippines — a hiring freeze placed on Philippine workers coming to Taiwan, the recall of Taiwan’s semi-official to Manila and the discouraging of Taiwanese travel to the Southeast Asian nation — will all remain in effect.
On Thursday, it was the Taiwanese military exercises in the Bashi Strait that captured most of the attention in Taiwan, with cable TV news stations offering full coverage of the sea and air maneuvers. Commentators drew repeated attention to the presence of heavily armed naval ships protecting the Taiwanese fishing boats working in the area — a reminder that Taiwan is prepared to do everything it can to discourage a reprise of last week’s incident.
“Our naval drill is meant to flex our muscles and protect our sovereignty,” gushed CTI TV, while ETTV added ominously: “Our Mirage fighters are heavily armed with missiles. Our naval crews are maneuvering on the very doorstep of the Philippines.”
The circumstances behind the May 9 shooting remain shrouded in controversy. While the Philippines acknowledges that its Coast Guard personnel did open fire on the Taiwanese boat, it says the action was taken in self-defense to prevent the Taiwanese from ramming their own vessel. Taiwanese fishermen deny the ramming claim.
The Philippines has opened an inquiry into the affair. Fourteen Taiwanese police investigators arrived in Manila on Thursday to take part in the inquiry.
The incident took place in waters southeast of Taiwan and north of the Philippines in a location is considered by both to be well within their 200 nautical mile-from-shore exclusive economic zones.
The continuing tensions between Taipei and Manila has placed the United States into something of a bind, with the State Department on Wednesday saying it was concerned by the increase in tensions “between two neighboring democracies and close partners of the United States.” It welcomed the Philippines’ pledge to investigate the shooting and cooperate with Taiwanese investigators, and urged both parties to avoid further escalation in tensions.
“We want them to work through their differences on this issue as expeditiously as they can,” spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.
China is also closely monitoring the upsurge in tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines, doing its best to make common cause with Taipei on a sensitive issue of maritime sovereignty.
Beijing sees the affair as a good opportunity to emphasize its claims over the island, from which it split amid civil war in 1949. Taiwan has so far resisted China’s efforts to mount a joint front against Manila.
On Wednesday, the spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council in Beijing repeated the mainland’s condemnation of the Philippines’ handling of the incident.
“It is the shared responsibility of both the mainland and Taiwan to safeguard the interests of compatriots across the strait,” Yang Yi said. “We have urged the Philippines to investigate the incident, punish the murderer and give a satisfactory explanation to the victims.”
Sixteen companies from Taiwan pulled out of the International Food Expo in Manila as relations soured.
An interpreter from the Taiwan External Trade and Development said that all exhibitors during the expo were ordered to pull out their products from the exhibit because of the current tension. They were also ordered to immediately fly back to Taiwan as a sign of protest over the shooting incident last week.
Philippine tourism officials and travel agents, meanwhile, have withdrawn from the coming Taipei Tourism Expo.
A report by CNA quoted expo organizers as saying they received a request from the Philippines that their booking of six booths at the event from May 24 to 27 be canceled.
“The reasons they gave were that their participation will not be effective and they do not expect their presence to attract Taiwanese tourists to their country,” the organizers said, CNA reported.
The cancellation would cost the Philippine participants half of the prepaid booth rentals as a penalty, organizers said. With Anna Leah Estrada, AP