The Philippines is being bullied by two neighbors: China and Taiwan. China is sending its navy to protect its fishing vessels while poaching in Philippine fishing grounds. And Taiwanese are harassing Filipino workers in Taiwan in retaliation for the accidental killing by a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol member of a Taiwanese on board a fishing vessel caught poaching in the seas around the Batanes isles. The PCG said the Taiwanese fishing boat tried to ram the PCG vessel so it fired warning shots. A fisherman was fatally hit by one of those shots and that started the diplomatic row between the two neighbors.
Taiwan has found a hostage to use against the Philippine government: the Filipino workers, mostly domestics, in Taiwan. The Filipinos are being harassed by Taiwanese citizens. They are denied service when trying to buy supplies from stores. They cannot walk or bike anywhere because they are harassed by Taiwanese goons. The Filipinos are forced to stay indoors.
In fairness to the Taiwanese government, it is not tolerating these acts of harassment. In fact, it has ordered the police to accompany Filipinos while going to and from their jobs or while doing errands for their employers, and to arrest Taiwanese citizens who harass them.
But the Taiwanese government is itself
erratic in dealing with the controversy. It has demanded an apology from the Philippine government, compensation for the family of the slain fisherman, the arrest and punishment of the coast guards involved, and a joint investigation of the incident.
But while the Taiwanese investigators were allowed to come here to investigate the incident without any problems, Taipei is imposing one condition after another on investigators of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) who want to go to Taiwan to look at the damaged fishing boat and to interview witnesses. On such a simple matter as issuing visas to the NBI personnel, Taipei put one roadblock after another. When the visas were finally issued, Taipei imposed another condition which it refuses to divulge to the press.
What’s with Taiwan? It demanded an apology from the Philippine government, but when President Aquino formally apologized, it rejected the apology. It wants a joint investigation of the incident but while the Taiwanese investigators have already come here and gone without any problems, it is not giving the same easy access to NBI investigators who want to go to Taiwan to inspect the fishing vessel, interview its crew, and have a second autopsy of the victim. It wants the guilty PCG personnel punished, but how can the Philippine government do that when Taipei is blocking the entry of Filipino investigators to Taiwan?
We do not yet know what the new demands of Taipei are. If I were asked to guess, I would say it has something to do with fishing rights. Yes, the common denominator in the present rows with Taiwan and China is fish. It is greed for fish in the rich Philippine fishing grounds that is at the root of the problem.
It is no secret that the fishing grounds of China and Taiwan have been depleted by their fleet of fishing boats. But there is still plenty of fish on the other side of the fence: the Philippine seas. Our fishing grounds are rich with the highly coveted and high-priced tuna. Philippine waters are the migration route of this fish. Our coral reefs are the homes and breeding places of millions of fish. (In fact, I suspect that that Chinese fishing boat that ran aground on Tubbataha Reef was not there by accident. It was probably poaching in the rich waters of the reef.)
That is why one of the conditions of Taiwan to settle the row over the killing of its fisherman is to have bilateral talks with the Philippines on fishing rights. Taiwan will probably offer to forgive and forget if the Philippines will allow its fishing boats to fish in waters within the Philippine economic zone. In return, Taiwan may allow Filipino fishing vessels to fish in its territorial seas, but what good will that do when its fishing grounds are already overfished?
The other day, Taipei issued a statement welcoming the start of fisheries talks between the two countries. It was like throwing the turtle into the river.
It is as if Taipei, with the innocent Filipino domestics in Taiwan as hostage, is demanding: “Give me a plane to fly me out of here or I will shoot this girl.” But what have the Filipino domestics got to do with fishing rights?
How would Taiwan and China react if Filipinos start harassing their citizens here and stop the importation of their products? Tit for tat.
But that is the problem with poor countries like the Philippines, which have little military and economic might. More powerful neighbors find it fun to bully them. There was Malaysia which killed scores of Filipinos in Sabah who went there to claim their birthright. Then there is China which is claiming islands and islets within Philippine territorial waters because the seas around them are also believed to be rich in oil and natural gas. Now comes Taiwan which wants to fish in our seas.
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KAPIHAN NOTES: There will be no Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel this morning. The penthouse has been reserved today for another private function. Kapihan will be resumed next Monday.
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Alumni of the Daily Express newspaper will have a reunion on June 1 at Annabel’s Restaurant on Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City. If you had worked in any department of the newspaper, you are invited to attend the reunion and see old friends and faces.
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Myther Bunag of Myther & Friends is inviting his friends to his birthday bash at his pad in Ermita, Manila, on May 30. “Don’t bring gifts,” he says, “but cash will be accepted.”