Taipei rejects apology

Aquino emissary snubbed, more sanctions imposed

Taiwan on Wednesday rejected an apology from President Benigno Aquino III for the shooting death last week of a Taiwanese fisherman, refusing to meet his personal envoy in Taipei and announcing new sanctions against Manila.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency said Foreign Minister David Lin refused to receive Mr. Aquino’s envoy, Manila Economic and Cultural Office Chairman Amadeo Perez Jr., Wednesday night because he was “not sufficiently authorized.”

As a new deadline for an apology lapsed, Premier Jiang Yi-huah announced that Taipei was imposing a red alert on travel to the Philippines, removing the country from its visa-waiver program, and suspending exchanges and cooperation in several domains, including fishing, science and technology, and aviation negotiations.

High-level meetings between officials of both countries would also stop, Jiang said.

The new sanctions also included a round of joint Navy, Coast Guard Administration and Air Force maneuvers scheduled for Thursday.

“The statements by the Philippines changed back and forth from start to finish and lacked sincerity,” Jiang said Wednesday evening.

He added that the government had set up a special task force to supervise the implementation of the sanctions, but also called on citizens not to take their anger over the incident out on innocent Filipino residents in the country.

The new measures came in addition to the immediate suspension of the processing of applications by Filipinos to work in Taiwan, the recall of representative Raymond Wang from Manila and the demand for Manila’s representative in Taipei Antonio Basilio to return to the Philippines.

The three sanctions were announced in the morning after President Ma Ying-jeou was reportedly furious about the lack of progress made during a meeting between Lin and Basilio Tuesday evening.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Palace announced that President Aquino was sending Perez with his apologies over last week’s shooting death.

Mr. Aquino’s apology came less than a day after Taiwan rejected an expression of regret by the Philippines envoy to the island, Basilio, over the incident. Taiwan announced it was instituting a hiring freeze on Philippine workers, recalling its envoy to Manila and discouraging travel to the Southeast Asian nation.

Hours later, Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Aquino was sending his personal representative to Taipei with a letter expressing his “deep regret and apology” as the President of the Republic of the Philippines and the Filipino people.

Perez would convey the President and the Filipino people’s “deep regret and apology to the family of Mr. Hung Shih-chen as well as to the people of Taiwan over the unfortunate and unintended loss of life, Lacierda said in a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, his second for the day on the topic.

Towards noon, Lacierda told the press the Palace would not be responding to media queries over the incident “with the objective of preventing further escalation while deliberations are ongoing.”

At 3:30 p.m Lacierda announced the President’s letter of apology.

The President’s apology Wednesday was in stark contrast to the Palace’s initial refusal to apologize over the weekend, and its insistence that the Taiwanese fishing vessel had tried to ram a Coast Guard vessel in Philippine waters in an “aggressive act.”

But on Wednesday, Lacierda said the latest apology was the result of deliberations conducted by the President and various government officials.

“We understand the grief and hurt of the family and of the people of Taiwan over this unfortunate loss and we empathize with them,” Lacierda added.

On Saturday, Basilio went to Hung’s hometown to personally apologize on behalf of the Filipino people to family of the deceased.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported that Basilio told Hung’s family that the incident “resulted from a misunderstanding.”

Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte, who had earlier talked tough, also apologized for Hung’s death, and assured the Taiwanese people that the investigation into the incident “will be conducted in an impartial, transparent and expeditious manner.”

On Monday, Taipei issued a 72-hour ultimatum for the Philippines to issue a formal and official apology as well as to compensate Hung’s family.

The President responded by calling for “calm” and sobriety, adding that the “process” by which the Coast Guard apprehended the Taiwanese fishing vessels will be reviewed.

On Tuesday, Taiwan suspended the processing of visa applications for Filipino workers bound for Taipei.

Hours before the Mr. Aquino’s apology was announced, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou pulled out Raymond Wang, the resident representative of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office to Manila.

Lacierda said Mr. Aquino has also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the maritime incident that involved personnel of the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“Upon orders from the President, the National Bureau of Investigation has already started the investigation and is committed to a thorough, exhaustive, impartial and expeditious investigation of the incident,” Lacierda said.

“The NBI has given this case the highest priority,” he added.

Lacierda, however, could not give a categorical answer yet on whether the government will compensate Hung’s family.

Aside from a formal apology, Taiwan has demanded that Hung’s family be compensated, the perpetrator be apprehended, and fishing talks between the two countries be scheduled soon.

Lacierda said Filipino citizens have already given private donations to Hung’s family.

Perez was also expected to meet with Hung’s family today (Thursday), Lacierda said.

“As far as the Philippine government is concerned, our statement has been very emphatic with respect to our deep regret over the incident and this also an apology to the family of Mr. Hung Shih-Chen,” he said.

Lacierda also expressed hope that Taiwan would “revisit” its decision to freeze the processing of work permit applications of overseas Filipino workers.

“But, nonetheless, the Philippine government is preparing for the contingencies,” he said.

About 80,000 overseas Filipino workers live and work in Taiwan, mostly as factory workers or caregivers.

The Labor and Employment Department on Wednesday said it is looking at South Korea and Middle Eastern countries to take up the slack if Filipino workers are turned away by Taiwan.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said Taiwan had stopped issuing working visas to Filipinos, but this should not affect Filipinos already working there.

Like many countries, the Philippines sticks to a One-China policy, but retains unofficial diplomatic relations with Taiwan through economic and cultural cooperation offices.

Earlier, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said Taiwan was displeased with an apology delivered by the Philippine representative office in Taipei, saying its phrasing reflected a desire by the Philippines government to distance itself from the affair.

Jiang also professed unhappiness with the source of compensation money the family of the fisherman will receive— the Filipino people rather than the Philippines government itself.

“The shooting was conducted by one of its civil servants, and its government could not evade the responsibility,” Jiang said, adding that Taiwan wants to be informed about whether the guilty party or parties will be charged, jailed or dismissed.

China has tried to make common cause with Taiwan on the fisherman’s death, part of its efforts to emphasize its claims of sovereignty over the island of 23 million people. Taiwan has so far resisted those attempts. The two split amid civil war in 1949.

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. With Vito Barcelo, Eric Apolonia, AP

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