Taiwan sets new terms on fisherman's death probe

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Taipei (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The government of Taiwan on Saturday imposed new conditions that would further delay the Philippines' investigation of the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coast guards three weeks ago.

Amadeo R. Perez, chair of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), the Philippines' de facto embassy in Taiwan, said previous problems had been solved and eight agents of the National Bureau of Investigation had been issued visas by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) in Manila.

"But this morning, we received new conditions, which we forwarded to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for decision," Perez told the Inquirer by phone.

He declined to disclose the new conditions.

"We referred them to the DOJ. They alone have the authority to reveal the new conditions," he said.

According to Perez, the justice department had approved Taiwan's request for access to a video of an encounter between a Philippine coastal patrol vessel and a Taiwanese fishing boat off Balintang Island in northern Philippines on May 9.

Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-chen was shot dead by Filipino coast guards in that incident, sparking public anger in Taiwan and new tensions between the two countries.

Taiwan rejected an apology from President Benigno Aquino III and took retaliatory measures against the Philippines, including freezing new jobs in Taiwan for Filipino migrant workers.

Taipei demanded, among other things, a sincere apology from the Philippine government, compensation for Hung's family, the arrest and punishment of the coast guards involved, and a joint investigation of the incident.

Cooperation

But as the Philippines' one-China policy does not allow a joint investigation, the two countries agreed to give each other's investigators access to evidence and witnesses in separate probes aimed at determining the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Hung.

The NBI wants to examine Hung's boat, the Guang Ta Hsin 28, which Taiwanese investigators said had taken 45 hits, 24 of them on the cabin.

The NBI also wants to interview the fishing boat's crew and do a new autopsy to determine how Hung died.

Taiwan requested round-the-clock protection for its investigators during their stay in Manila, which the Philippine government immediately approved.

But the DOJ initially rejected Taiwan's request for access to the Philippine Coast Guard video of the incident that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had described as "very revealing."

Its request for a copy of the video denied, Taiwan on Wednesday "declined for the time being" the Philippine request for legal assistance.

The DOJ relented on Friday and approved the sharing of the video with the Taiwanese investigators, which was all that Teco was waiting for to release the visas for the members of the NBI's investigative team.

But the new conditions came down on Saturday, delaying the NBI team's departure for Taiwan.

"Unless the new terms are immediately acted upon, the departure of the NBI will again be delayed," Perez said.

Calming down

Perez reported an improvement in the security situation of Filipino workers in Taiwan.

"The situation has improved and new new attacks on Filipinos have been reported," he said.

"But for their security, we advise Filipino workers here not to go out unless necessary," he added.

Borcia Talal, a Filipino woman married to a Taiwanese who lives in Taichung City, which has a large concentration of Filipino migrant workers, said the Taiwanese there had "calmed down."

"Their anger has eased, but we are still a bit afraid. We hope this will be resolved soon," Talal said.

The Filipino community here is planning a "vigil" at St. Christopher Church on Chungshan North Road for a speedy resolution of the crisis.

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