Mending nets


After the outburst of public anger, amplified by official outrage orchestrated by an unpopular government, Taiwan is sounding less bellicose these days. Perhaps President Ma Ying-Jeou and his advisers think they have forced the Philippines into a corner. They would be wrong.

After the shooting death of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-chen on May 9, in Philippine waters, it was incumbent on the Philippines to show that the rules were followed in that unfortunate encounter—and if not, to bring justice to the victim and to hale the offending crewmen to court. There was no reason for Taipei to expect otherwise; despite several dozen such encounters in the past, where Philippine Coast Guard vessels intercepted Taiwanese fishing boats suspected of poaching on the country’s exclusive economic zone, relations between Manila and Taipei were always robust.

The fraying of these ties was a direct result of Taiwan’s deliberate decision to strike a populist, even jingoistic, pose after the incident. The initial unreasonable demands, coupled with the hostile official actions such as labor bans and aggressive naval exercises just off Luzon, were not aimed at changing the conduct of the Philippine government—no self-respecting sovereign country would want its head of state to apologize using a noncountry’s preferred script—but rather at channeling the anger of the Taiwanese public.

Now the investigation has been concluded. The findings of the official Philippine inquiry into the shooting incident, undertaken as part of a cooperative effort with Taipei, have not yet been disclosed, but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed early reports that the National Bureau of Investigation had recommended the filing of criminal charges against the Coast Guard crew involved.

No one is yet in a position to review the NBI’s findings, but we cannot believe that the bureau, with the active help of the Department of Justice, would manufacture a result simply to please Taiwan. In other words, the results would have been the same, and the investigators would have still done their job, even if the Taiwanese did not irresponsibly put the lives of some Filipino workers in Taiwan at risk, or brandish their arms at a close ally.

The Philippines’ de facto ambassador to Taiwan described the NBI findings as “the last piece” in the puzzle to mend relations. But we think Taipei has also learned that no self-respecting country would allow itself to be stampeded into action—and that cooperating with neighboring countries is the best way to advance mutual interests.

It is no coincidence that Taiwan has been trying to promote what it calls its East China Sea Peace Initiative—essentially an attempt, to quote Prof. Madoka Fukuda of Hosei University, to call on China and Japan “to shelve sovereignty issues, peacefully resolve their disputes and engage in joint development of resources.” To this end, the Taiwanese finally concluded a lengthy negotiation with the Japanese on a fisheries agreement last April. (The agreement is formulated as a contract between two private-sector entities, to comply with the One China policy that Japan and most other countries, including the Philippines, follow.)

The mending of relations between the Philippines and Taiwan is to be sealed through another fisheries agreement, with talks beginning in July. This has nothing to do with the Taiwanese peace initiative, and yet at the same time it will enhance the Taiwanese position. A successful fisheries agreement with the Philippines, to its south, will allow Taipei to focus on the east—on Japan and especially China.

But the Philippines also stands to gain from a fisheries agreement smartly, resolutely, negotiated. There is the clarity to be gained from forthright protocols regarding encounters in those areas where the exclusive economic zones overlap. And there is also the advantage to be gained from stronger relations with a more flexible, less absolutist South China Sea claimant like Taiwan.

Then, as now, Taiwan is a counterweight to China.

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  • Weder-Weder Lang

    Nets mended. Charges filed. Video withheld. Faces saved. Hostilities averted. Now back to business as usual. Still no jobs at home for the Taiwan OFWs. Still no plane tickets for the distressed OFWs trapped in the Middle East. Still no end in sight for the flooding in the metro. PNoy caught snoring on the job.

    • aristeosj

      we’ll just have to wait for the next gov’t then…??

  • erine0

    Mending nets? Perhaps. But the other part of the story is entitled “Thrown to the wolves”. That’s what happened to the Coast Guard crew.

    • marionics

      well, i will take a risk na hindi ka unreasonable. sa tingin ko basta may namaril at may napatay lalo na pag initial finding ay unarmed ang nab aril e dapat kasuhan tapos ilabas ng cg ang mga depensa nila kung meron man gaya ng self defense etc. ang problema e pag may “shootout” daw ang pulis na mukhang masaker tapos mga kriminal daw yung ka-shootout tapos sa police investigation pa lang e sasabihin e absuwelto na ang mga pulis e magrereklamo tayo na whitwashed.

      tama lang na kasuhan tapos sa korte alamin kung totoo nga

  • tarikan

    “The initial unreasonable demands, coupled with the hostile official actions such as labor bans and aggressive naval exercises just off Luzon, were not aimed at changing the conduct of the Philippine government”. Can Taiwan do this aggressive naval exercise to her neighbor in the north? Kawawang Pilipinas ginagago ng kahit malinggit na bansa(?) kasi ang armas natin ay tirador laban sa machine gun. Kulam daw sabi ng iba hehehe.

    • marionics

      yup. that is the reality. pag mahina ka talagang brabrasuhin ka. i suspect we will do the same if the shoe were on the other foot

      • tarikan

        Yeah marionics. Give us 50 years and Marianas Islands will be on the receiving end haha. We will draw our ten-dash or even a hundred-dash line and they’d be none the wiser.

      • aristeosj

        oh,and make that 100 years for good measure…


    if it were a pinoy fisherman shot and killed, it could have been “collateral damage”, due to overlapping boundaries. the pinoys cannot complain due to the 85,000 workers welfare.

  • Fulpol

    If Japan and Taiwan made an agreement, Philippines and Taiwan could do the same…

    what can you do about an overlapping EEZ? negotiation..

    what can you do about a territory you called your own but disputed by your neighboring countries? fight for it.. how? that is a big question…

    • Gyrating Monkey

      But Taiwan is a non-Country.

  • $31552910

    Article 111 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) grants coastal states the right to hot pursuit or to pursue and arrest fishing vessels or ships escaping to international waters. The maritime enforcement authorities of the Philippines had good reason to believe that the pursued fishing vessel or ship has violated the laws or regulations of the Philippines. Hot pursuit is an exigent circumstance to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or destruction of evidence. Attempts to stop the fishing vessel with engine-disabling fire failed. It is unfortunate that the suspects managed to flee and the maritime enforcement authorities of the Philippines were unable to board and inspect the suspect fishing vessel. As a goodwill gesture, the Philippine government should provide compensation to the victim’s family even if its maritime enforcement authorities have no criminal liability. Taiwan authorities should take responsibility for encouraging their fishermen to engage in poaching or illegal fishing and for not notifying or getting the permission of Philippine authorities.

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