Philippines, Taiwan on way to mending relations

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Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippines and Taiwan are on the way to restoring their good relations after Friday's breakthrough fishery meeting aimed at preventing the recurrence of violent confrontations in overlapping waters, Manila's representative to Taipei said Monday.

Representatives of the two countries are meeting again in early July to continue negotiating on fishing operations in their overlapping exclusive economic zones, but international law expert Harry Roque says the talks should be aimed at concluding an agreement between the Philippines and a local government of China to avoid violating the Philippines' one-China policy.

Under that policy, the Philippines has diplomatic relations only with China, which considers Taiwan its province.

But the Philippines maintains economic and cultural relations with Taiwan, though not through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) but through the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), an agency under the Office of the President, with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) as its Taiwanese counterpart.

Antonio I. Basilio, managing director and resident representative to Meco, said on Monday that the National Bureau of Investigation's resolution of the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-chen by Filipino coast guards off Balintang Island on May 9 was the "last piece" in the two countries' efforts to put their once good relations together again.

The shooting death of Hung sparked public anger in Taiwan. Taipei demanded an apology from the Philippine government, compensation for Hung's family, the arrest and punishment of the shooters, and the initiation of fishery cooperation talks between the two countries.

To pressure Manila to comply, Taipei froze new jobs for Filipinos in Taiwan and suspended trade and cultural exchanges with the Philippines.

The preparatory meeting on fishery cooperation came two days after the NBI, which investigated the shooting death of Hung, recommended the prosecution of the coast guards involved.

Basilio said Taiwan demanded that charges be brought against the coast guards if found liable.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima submitted the NBI report on the investigation to President Aquino on Tuesday.

Aquino will decide what charges to bring against the shooters.

No use of force

Basilio said Friday's meeting in Manila of Philippine and Taiwanese officials decided to make an agreement not to use force in fishing disputes and prevent the recurrence of the May 9 incident that cost Hung's life.

"The first objective is to clarify procedures and protocol in our overlapping waters," Basilio said. "We plan to start a notification system where each of us has to alert the other in case fishermen are caught poaching in the overlapping waters. We used to have an informal system. This will make it more structured and there will be no more use of force."

Basilio said the two sides were looking to release fishermen caught poaching instead of holding them and their vessels and illegal catch.

He said the two sides were considering fining or requiring poachers to post US$50,000 to $100,000 bond, while keeping their vessels and illegal catch in the apprehending country.

"It's a very stiff fine and it doesn't preclude us from detaining their boats," Basilio said.

Up to three Taiwanese fishermen are caught poaching in waters off Batanes every year, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Early accord

Basilio said he expected Taiwan and the Philippines to be able to conclude a fishery cooperation agreement in less than the 17 years it took Taiwan and Japan to sign a similar deal, which took effect in April.

Basilio said there was no territorial dispute between the Philippines and Taiwan in their overlapping exclusive economic zones, unlike between Taiwan and Japan, which have rival claims to a group of islands in the East China Sea.

Basilio said Philippine and Taiwanese representatives would meet again in Taipei in early July.

Benjamin Ho, director general of Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Sunday that the agenda for the second preparatory meeting would include establishing regulations on fishing order and defining the areas in which fishermen could operate.

The China Post daily in Taiwan quoted Ho as saying the meeting would be attended by officials from the fishery, foreign affairs and maritime patrol agencies of the two countries.

Reports on shooting

"Our goal is to sign a fishery agreement with the Philippines," Ho said. "We will continue to negotiate with the Philippines (on that issue)."

Asked about the investigations of the shooting death of Hung, Ho said both Taiwan and the Philippines had completed their own reports on the incident.

Foreign Minister David Lin also said the reports were expected to be released "soon".

Roque said the start of the fishery talks was a positive step toward restoring good relations between the Philippines and Taiwan.

But he said the talks "may violate the one-China policy".

"All talks with Taiwan should be (done with Taiwan as) part of China," he said.

"The alternative is to craft (the proposed fishery cooperation accord) as an agreement with a local government of China," he said.

With a report from The China Post/ANN


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