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Aquino pleads for calm in Taiwan row
Publication Date : 14-05-2013
Deadline set by Taiwan to apologise falls at midnight Tuesday
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Monday appealed for calm after Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou gave the Philippines 72 hours to respond to its demands over Thursday’s killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard or face the consequences.
Aquino seemed worried by the implications of the accidental killing of the fisherman on the country’s bilateral relations with Taiwan.
“The Philippines must apologise, find and prosecute those responsible for the brutal killing, and offer compensation for the fisherman’s death,” Ma earlier said.
In retaliation for the killing, Taiwan has threatened to freeze all applications of Philippine labourers, to recall Taiwan’s envoy in Manila and to expel the Philippine envoy in Taipei.
Taiwan also dispatched four coast guard and naval vessels to beef up patrols in the waters near Batanes on Sunday. All are reportedly prepared for combat should another encounter with Philippine vessels turn violent.
Aquino, however, refrained from commenting on the specific circumstances that led to the shooting of 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng, a crew member of Taiwanese fishing boat Guang Ta Hsin 28.
“If I comment on that level, we’ll guarantee that the issue will escalate. So I think it is in the interest of both parties to proceed on a calm basis. So we are proceeding on that manner,” the President told reporters on Monday after casting his vote in Tarlac City.
But Aquino skipped a question on the wisdom of immediately issuing an apology to Taiwan.
“Our Department of Foreign Affairs is in touch with its counterpart precisely to, perhaps, not let the incident (lead to unwanted) repercussions,” he said.
The President also reiterated that the PCG had already placed the commander of the Philippine vessel, along with 10 others, under investigation. All have been relieved pending a full investigation.
“The commander of the Coast Guard vessel is in Manila already. He either will be, or is already, undergoing an investigation,” he said, noting that since there was a fatality, “there will be a review if the process (carried out by PCG in trying to apprehend the fishermen) was proper.”
The President noted that the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) was directly talking to Taiwanese authorities.
“And I, of course, coursed it through the DFA. I asked the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to monitor (the situation in Taiwan), but the lead person has to be Meco because of the One China policy,” said Aquino.
The Philippines and Taiwan have no official diplomatic relations but maintain economic and cultural offices in each other’s capitals, with representatives acting as de facto ambassadors.
Ma gave the Philippines until Tuesday to respond to Taiwan’s demands.
‘It was self-defence’
Malacanang had insisted that the Coast Guard vessel acted in self-defence since one of the Taiwanese fishing vessels tried to ram the Coast Guard boat.
The incident happened when the PCG was trying to make an arrest at sea for illegal fishing within Philippine territorial waters, Malacanang said.
In Taipei, Taiwan’s Presidential Office spokesperson Garfie Li on Monday said the Philippines would have to pay the price if it showed no sincerity in solving the dispute over the fisherman’s shooting.
On Sunday, Malacanang announced that the government, through the Meco, had issued an apology and extended its condolences to the family of the Taiwanese fisherman.
“We extend our sincere and deepest sympathies and condolences to the bereaved family of the victim,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte had said.
Valte told reporters that Meco chief Antonio Basilio personally “visited the family of the victim and extended condolences and offered his apologies.”
Malacanang also vowed to conduct an “impartial, transparent and expeditious” investigation into the tragedy.
But Li said the Philippine statement was “flippant” and showed no sincerity in solving the problem.
Less than 24 hours after Taiwan issued the ultimatum, Valte said that “as the Philippine Coast Guard has stated, we express our heartfelt sorrow on the unfortunate situation that occurred during one of the anti-illegal fishing patrols conducted by a Philippine fishery law enforcement vessel (MCS 3001) within the maritime jurisdiction (waters off the Batanes group of islands) of the Philippines on the morning of May 9, 2013, which tragically resulted in the death of a fisherman from one of the fishing vessels reportedly poaching in the area.”
The Philippines will look into ways of preventing similar incidents in the future, Valte said.
The Philippine Coast Guard will complete as soon as possible its investigation of the May 9 incident, according to its spokesperson.
Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, head of the PCG public affairs office, on Monday said “the command’s investigation of the incident is ongoing.”
Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, the PCG commandant, acknowledged that the crew of the MCS 3001 had opened fire on the Taiwanese fishing boat.
However, he insisted that the Coast Guard personnel acted in self-defence and were forced to fire because the Taiwanese vessel tried to ram the PCG vessel
The incident has sparked a cyber war between hackers from both countries, paralysing the websites of both countries’ presidents, as well as those of Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Coast Guard Administration.
Taiwanese hackers attacked the Philippine presidential website the next day. But Filipino hackers retaliated and took down several Taiwanese government websites.
On Monday, some 200 Taiwanese gathered outside the Meco office in Taipei on Monday to protest the killing of the Taiwanese fisherman.
Burning Philippines flags and waving banners that read “You can’t kill our people, you can’t insult our country,” the demonstrators demanded that the Philippines apologise for Thursday’s incident. Monday’s demonstration was peaceful, however.—With reports from Jerry E. Esplanada, The China Post/Asia News Network and agencies