Taiwanese fishermen provoked Coast Guard into firing
In the second half of President Benigno Aquino III’s administration, the Philippines finds itself caught in a foreign policy dispute with China’s vassal territory, Taiwan, over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in an encounter on May 9 between a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and a Taiwanese fishing boat caught by the PCG poaching in Philippine waters off Batanes.
The shooting of the fisherman quickly escalated into a diplomatic crisis between the Philippines and Taiwan, in which Taipei threatened Manila with economic sanctions and Filipino workers in Taiwan were attacked in retaliation for the death of fisherman Hung Shin-chen.
Taipei showered Manila with humiliating demands, and in the course of the exchanges, the Philippine government appeared to have reeled under the blows of Taiwan’s aggressive diplomatic offensive, ineffectual to defend Philippine interests and sovereignty. In the confrontation, the Philippines turned out to be the flogging beast of Taiwan. The episode put the Aquino administration’s foreign policy competence under a severe test and highlighted its weakness and subservience to the demands of the Philippines’ neighbors, including China, which claims Taiwan as a province.
The incident off Batanes represents one of the most serious crises to arise in the seas between the Chinese mainland and Southeast and East Asian states in a region fraught with overlapping territorial claims.
On May 9, a cutter of the PCG and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources spotted the Taiwanese fishing vessel, Guang Ta Hsin 28, in Philippine territorial waters. The PCG said the Taiwanese crew violently tried to evade arrest after it was caught poaching about 39 nautical miles off Balintang Island. Taiwan has an overlapping claim near the area.
The PCG said its men fired at the fishing boat as the latter tried to ram the PCG-BFAR boat. The PCG said its personnel had acted in self-defense and were only performing their duty of stopping illegal fishing and poaching in Philippine territory. According to the PCG-BFAR report, the fishing boat “approached and attempted to ram the Philippine vessel, but the bigger [vessel] was able to maneuver and the fishing boat missed it by a meter.” There had supposedly been warnings before then. The PCG ordered the fishing boat to stop, but the warnings were not heeded, and the boat continued to speed toward the PCG-BFAR vessel. Then the fishing boat sped off and the Philippine vessel went after it, firing at the boat’s engine to stop the boat.
The Taiwanese government is demanding, among other things, a formal apology from the Philippine government for Hung’s death, compensation for the fisherman’s family, and the arrest and punishment of his killers. To put pressure on the Philippines, Taiwan froze the hiring of Filipino workers
President Aquino had earlier sent a letter to the Taiwanese government, but it was rejected for being “insincere.” Taipei also suspended official and trade exchanges, economic cooperation projects, and tourist travel to the Philippines, and conducted naval exercises in waters near the Philippines.
Taiwanese officials had claimed that the fisherman died of a single gunshot wound in the neck, caused by a high-velocity bullet that was fired from a high-powered firearm, most likely a machine gun or rifle. Most of the bullets fired at the fishing boat supposedly hit the cockpit, where the crew had taken cover as the Filipino coast guards strafed the boat, they said.
Philippine officials have advised Filipino workers in Taiwan to “limit their movements,” fearing a potentially violent backlash over the killing of the fisherman. There are 85,185 Filipino workers in Taiwan, according to records of the Department of Labor and Employment. Antonio Basilio, representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) in Taiwan, said Filipino workers “should avoid doing unnecessary things—in other words, to keep to their workplaces and their homes.” Filipino politicians have angrily called for the repatriation of Filipino workers in Taiwan to protect them from being held hostage to mob rule by Taiwanese authorities.
The Meco has confirmed the attack on a Filipino worker by a gang of youths wielding baseball bats, and was documenting other cases.
The Philippines does not have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan in the light of its one-China policy that recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the real China. As a result, the Philippines’ relations with Taiwan is carried out through the Meco. This status inhibits the full employment of diplomatic initiatives to resolve diplomatic crises such as the current one concerning the Taiwanese fishermen poaching in Philippine waters.
Taiwanese fishermen are reputed to be voracious in their incursions into the fishing grounds of other countries. Thus, if they poach in our waters, what will the Philippine Coast Guard do if they do not obey warnings to stop? The PCG has a duty to protect our sovereignty from incursions. Its men have to fire their guns to drive out intruders.
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