MANILA – The Philippines on Saturday rejected Taiwan’s allegations that its coast guard had intentionally murdered a Taiwanese fisherman whose death has triggered a major diplomatic spat.
Hong Shi-cheng, a 65-year-old fisherman, was shot dead by the Philippine Coast Guard, who said his vessel intruded into Philippine waters.
Chen Wen-chi, director of Taiwan’s Department of International and Cross-Strait Legal Affairs and head of the team investigating the May 9 incident, said most of the bullets had hit the fishing boat’s cockpit where its crew were hiding.
“By combining the . . . evidence, it clearly shows that the Philippine law enforcers were intentionally shooting the Guang Ta Hsin 28 crew members, which indicates their intent of murder,” Chen said in Manila.
She told a news briefing, held at the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Manila, that “the Philippine government has tried to prolong and delay our requests for a joint investigation.”
“Although we made some progress (Friday), we still feel discontent with the lack of sincerity and credibility exhibited by the Philippine side in cooperating with our team,” said Chen, who is heading the 13-member investigation team that arrived in Manila on Thursday.
The shooting, which Manila insists occurred inside Philippine territorial waters but which Taipei counters happened within Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone, has led to Taiwanese sanctions against its neighbor.
The Philippine Coast Guard initially said that the Bureau of Fisheries vessel, which was involved in the incident, encountered the Taiwanese vessel some 43 nautical miles from Balintang Island in the northern part of the Philippines, well within the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesman, Ricky Carandang, rejected the murder allegations.
“There is an investigation ongoing so any premature statements that tend to confuse the issues and inflame passions should be avoided,” Carandang said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, in a separate statement, also urged everyone to refrain from making statements “that would further fuel or aggravate the prevailing tension between the Philippines and Taiwan.”
Chen’s comments echoed those made by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Taipei on Friday.
“If (Philippine) civil servants used automatic weapons to fire at unarmed and provocative fishing boats, this was not carrying out their job duties. This is cold-blooded murder,” Ma said.
Aquino made a “personal” apology Wednesday over the “unintended” death arising from the patrol’s duty of protecting Philippine waters against illegal fishing.
Taiwan has rejected the apology. It recalled its de facto envoy, banned the hiring of new Philippine workers and staged a military drill in waters off the northern Philippines earlier last week.
The Philippines officially recognizes Beijing over Taipei but maintains trade ties with the island, which employs about 87,000 Filipinos.
Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay on Saturday urged Taiwan to ensure the safety of Filipino workers following reports of attacks by angry Taiwanese.
“We heard and we read in the papers that they have been hit by bats and four have been hospitalized,” Binay told reporters, according to an official transcript released by his office.
“We are appealing to the Taiwanese people to spare our overseas Filipino workers from conflict,” he added.
Taiwanese media reported that a Filipino was treated in hospital after being attacked by a gang of youths.
“We’ve seen reports that their leaders have assured the safety of our people there. We expect them to act on these reports (of attacks),” Aquino spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
Nearly 10 million Filipinos live or work abroad, and the tens of billions of dollars in earnings that they all remit back to their homeland every year help prop up the Philippine economy.
Taiwan’s Chen added that even if the Philippine Coast Guard officers were on antipoaching patrol, “they should follow the procedures of warning, dispelling, boarding and detaining the illegal vessel, then, proceed to the legal procedure, according to the relevant regulations of the international maritime law.”
Chen said Taiwan is, however, willing to welcome an investigation team from Manila, should the Philippine government decide to send one.