Thursday, May 16, 2013

Taiwanese probers arrive in RP; De Lima nixes joint NBI inquiry

From the Daily Tribune (May 17): Taiwanese probers arrive in RP; De Lima nixes joint NBI inquiry

A contingent from the Taiwanese government arrived in the country to reiterate its request to seek an audience with the Department of Justice (DoJ) and possible assistance from the government investigators to look into the incident involving the death of a Taiwanese who was shot by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) last week, airport sources yesterday confirmed.

The source said the investigation team, which consists of representatives from the Taiwanese government’s justice, police and maritime departments arrived in the Philippines even as officials of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) which serves as a liaison to the Philippines are yet to secure possible discussion with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who quickly rejected a possible joint investigation by local law enforcers and Taiwanese counterparts to determine the real cause of the incident that led to the shooting and eventual death of Hung Shih-cheng.

De Lima stressed there is no agreement between the two governments to conduct an inquiry.

“That’s not possible. I don’t think we can agree to a joint investigation because we are a sovereign country and we have our own processes,” she told reporters in an interview yesterday.

“We have our own justice system and we conduct our own investigation. We would not want anyone to interfere in the investigation of the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation),” she said, citing the country’s justice system.

The Justice chief said they have not confirmed reports that investigators from Taiwan have arrived in the country.

“As far as we are concerned, there’s no prior coordination nor formal request on such Taiwanese investigators – if there’s any. That’s not allowed. They can’t just (come) here and investigate without prior coordination,” she added.

De Lima said the Taiwanese authorities would have to coordinate with the MECO if they want to conduct an investigation here.

According to her, the NBI is already pursuing its investigation.

“We will find out the entire circumstances behind the incident. The core, of course, is to determine why was there a fatality,” she explained, adding the probe would be “fact-finding” in nature with the end-goal of determining possible criminal or administrative liabilities of those involved.

The DoJ chief also assured that the NBI probe would not in any way be affected by demands made by Taiwanese government.

“It’s not a question of appeasing anybody or entity. It’s a matter of duty. We really want to know what happened,” she stressed.

De Lima revealed that the NBI is set to send a team of investigators to Taiwan to conduct forensic examination of the fishing vessel used by the victim and also to possibly interview his companions who survived the shooting by operatives of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) who were patrolling off Balintang island.

Relatedly, Taiwan yesterday held a military exercise in waters near Batanes in response to the killing of its citizen, after rejecting repeated apologies from the Philippine government.

President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated that Manila should take formal responsibility for the death of the 65-year-old, shot last week by operatives of the PCG claiming that the Taiwanese fisherman’s vessel intruded into Philippine waters.

Amid outrage in the island, Taipei has recalled its envoy and slapped sanctions on Manila, including a ban on the hiring of new Filipino workers, a travel alert urging Taiwanese not to visit the Philippines and the suspension of high-level exchanges.

On Thursday Taiwan sent a destroyer, one frigate and four Coast Guard ships to waters near the Batan island to press its claims in the area, defense authorities said.
The ships went as close as 21 nautical miles west of Batan but stayed within Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone, said Rear Admiral Lee Tung-pao.

“The move is aimed to highlight our determination to safeguard sovereignty. The Coast Guards have vowed to protect our fishermen wherever they are, and we’ll support them,” Lee said.

The fleet did not encounter any Philippine naval or Coast Guard vessels.
Two Taiwanese Mirage 2000-5 fighters flew over the fleet at low altitude as the warships tested their anti-aircraft capabilities.

In Manila, a military spokesman declined comment on the exercise and said it was not immediately clear whether the Taiwanese vessels were in international or Philippine waters.

MalacaƱang expressed indignation at Taiwan’s treatment of its envoy Amadeo Perez, sent by President Aquino to apologize personally to the victim’s family.

Perez left Taiwan earlier Thursday after Foreign Minister David Lin and the fisherman’s family refused to meet him.

“I came to convey the President’s and the Filipino people’s deep regret and apology over the unfortunate and unintended loss of life,” he told reporters at the airport before his departure.

But presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda vehemently denied that Perez was rejected by Taiwanese officials.

“While it may be true that the Foreign Minister did not see him, there was indeed a meeting with Director General Benjamin Ho of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Lacierda said.

“There was a meeting last night and Chairman Perez was able to convey the instructions from the President. As to what the response is, we will know from Chairman Perez,” he added.

The Palace official, however, insisted that the incident happened in Philippine waters and said the government should not have to “appease” Taiwan.

“We have gone the extra mile,” Lacierda told reporters, referring to Aquino sending Perez to Taipei. “We have acted uprightly and decently as a respectable member of the international community.”

Lacierda also cautioned that Taiwan’s sanctions would hurt both sides.

“It does not do anyone any good. Travel from their end will be affected as well. Their airlines will be affected,” he noted.

Perez heads the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) which handles relations with Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties. The Philippines formally recognizes China over Taiwan.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, for his part, appealed to the Taiwanese government to lift the freeze-hire on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), stressing they should be spared from the tension between the Philippines and Taiwan.

The Vice President also expressed concern over reports of harassment and discrimination against Filipinos in Taiwan.

“I appeal to the government of Taiwan to lift the ban on the hiring of OFWs. They are there to earn an honest living for their families and work harmoniously with the Taiwanese people. They should be spared from any political conflict,” Binay, in a statement, said.

“Nonetheless, our Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has given assurances that the national government has in place measures to mitigate the impact of the freeze-hire policy,” he added.

Sen. Loren Legarda also yesterday criticized the Taiwanese government’s decision to ban the hiring of OFWs, saying the imposition of sanction on the government serves no valid purpose as it only further aggravates the situation between the two countries.

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