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Analysis

Taiwan should compensate PH for its incursions

Prior to the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman whose vessel was intercepted poaching in Philippine waters off the Batanes islands on May 9, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) recorded at least 19 incursions into this area since 2006.

The incursions of Taiwanese vessels suspected of illegal poaching have made the northern waters a virtual Taiwanese fishing ground, beyond the control of the PCG. After the shooting incident, which has sparked a major diplomatic dispute between the Philippines and Taiwan, a PCG official, who requested anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the dispute, told the Inquirer that an undisclosed number of Taiwanese fishing vessels caught by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources have since 2006 remained in BFAR custody.

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One of the seized vessels has been fined P13 million by the BFAR and some of the fishermen have been charged in local courts, according to this official. The BFAR operates surveillance vessels, most of them manned by PCG personnel, but since the pullout of the BFAR surveillance ship 3001 from the Batanes islands, there had been no significant Coast Guard presence in the area. “Fishermen, mainly from Taiwan, are having a fiesta,” the official said, “especially now, which is a fishing season.” The Inquirer reported that last year, the surveillance ship was one of several ships deployed by the government to the West Philippine Sea during the standoff between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal. Whether the ship would be returned to the Batanes sea depends upon the outcome of the current parallel but separate inquiries  by the Philippines and Taiwan into the May 9 shooting.

On Wednesday in Taiwan, a National Bureau of Investigation team examined the Taiwanese fishing vessel involved in the May 9 shooting to gather evidence to back the Philippine claim that the fishing boat had tried to ram the PCG vessel, causing its men to fire shots in self-defense.

A Taiwanese investigating team was also in Manila at the same time to gather evidence and was given access by the Department of Justice to a video recording of the incident. Taiwan’s International Cross-Straits director Chen Wen-chi has said that Taiwan would insist on the criminal liability of the PCG personnel involved in the shooting. Taiwan has accused the Philippines of “cold-blooded” shooting, and has claimed that the fishing boat had not been in Philippine territorial waters, as claimed by Manila, but in an area where the two countries’ economic zones overlap. How these conflicting versions of the incident can be reconciled appears to be a formidable obstacle as official positions seem to be hardening.

Taiwan has demanded a sincere apology from the Philippine government, which holds a One China policy that recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China, and does not have an embassy in Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China on the mainland considers Taiwan one of its provinces.

It is hard to imagine how, in the event of a conclusion by the Taiwanese investigating team that the PCG should be held criminally liable for the death of the Taiwanese fisherman, the Philippine government could find it acceptable.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya has taken a hardline position. He has insisted that the Coast Guard personnel abided by the rules of engagement when they fired on the Taiwanese boat, and that the boat was within the Philippines’ exclusive zone. The shots were meant to immobilize the fishing boat, he has said.

We complied with the rules of engagement, Abaya has said. “There is no authority to fire at human beings or target them, and whoever died was not seen.”

Taiwan has bombarded the Philippine government with a set of implacable conditions that Philippine officials have viewed as humiliating and an affront to Philippine sovereignty, and intended to put the Philippines in subordination to Taiwan—in short, a demand for unconditional surrender to its terms. Taiwan has demanded, among other things, a “sincere apology from the Philippine government, compensation for the fisherman’s family, a thorough examination and punishment of those responsible, and a start to bilateral fishery talks.”

According to press reports, if those conditions are not met, Taiwan is unlikely to end its threatened sanctions against Manila. The sanctions include a freeze in the hiring of more Filipino workers in Taiwan.

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These conditions embody all the elements of an intractable impasse that is likely to wreck diplomatic negotiations to resolve the crisis.

Taiwan’s demands mean negotiations at gunpoint—a coercion that no self-respecting and sovereign government can accept without losing the confidence of its own people. The Philippine government is facing onerous pressure and blackmail in its most outrageous form.

If Taiwan demands compensation for the family of the killed fisherman, why can’t the Philippine government demand compensation from Taiwan for a far more serious offense—the infringements by the Taiwanese on Philippine sovereignty through the incursions of its fishing fleets and the pillage of our maritime resources?

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TAGS: amando doronila, column, Diplomacy, foreign relations, illegal poaching, Taiwan incursions
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