[Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) resident representative in Taipei Antonio Basilio]

MANILA, MAY 20, 2013
(PHILSTAR) By Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 20, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Filipino workers in Taiwan have been advised to stay indoors as emotions continued to run high against the Philippines over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman last May 9.

Following the advice of Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) resident representative in Taipei Antonio Basilio, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the prudent thing to do at this time for Filipinos in Taiwan is to stay indoors and limit their movements.

“Mr. Basilio told me that they have issued an advisory to our fellow countrymen there that they should try to limit their movements outside, that they should avoid doing unnecessary things,” Valte said.

“They should limit their movements within their workplaces and their homes for the meantime. I also understand from Mr. Basilio that they are speaking to the Filipino communities to apprise them of what had happened,” Valte added.

She said the Philippine government does not want the tension to escalate and result in violence, which is the reason why the government is calling upon the Taiwanese people not to harass Filipinos because they had nothing to do with the death of the fisherman.

“We’ve repeatedly made the call for calm and that our Filipino overseas workers in Taiwan have nothing to do with the incident... they are there to work, they are not there to make trouble,” Valte said.

Anger has grown in Taiwan after a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman was shot dead on May 9 by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Taiwan has imposed sanctions against the Philippines, banning the entry of any more workers, recalling its de facto envoy and holding a military exercise in waters near the northern Philippines last week.

At the same time, the Philippine government also informed the estimated 85,185 Filipino workers in Taiwan of the efforts to put them out of harm’s way, as well as the steps taken in light of the situation, where anti-Filipino sentiment among Taiwanese is still running high.

Records from the Department of Labor and Employment showed that out of the 85,185 Filipino workers in Taiwan, a vast majority of them, or 72 percent, are in the manufacturing sector, 26 percent are in personal/social services and two percent in the fishing sector.

As for the Filipinos who still face problems from employers despite compliance with all the measures, MECO advised them to seek assistance, Valte assured.

“They (Filipino workers) should contact MECO at the soonest and then to make the proper representations. Our counterparts there are ready to help them. They can also ask for assistance from MECO,” she said.

Valte said the Philippine government is “verifying reports” that migrant workers have been maltreated by their employers, or have been attacked by locals.

“The help that we can extend is to make sure that they are... they receive prompt medical assistance,” Valte said.

She added that another form of help is by way of coordinating with the Filipino workers there on how to contact their families back home.

MECO has organized a team that will document reports of harassment and assaults against Filipinos in Taiwan and relay it to Taiwan’s foreign ministry, Valte said.

“The MECO has already formed a team to focus on reports of maltreatment and MECO has assured that all verified reports were sifted and will be sent the soonest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan for immediate investigation,” she said.

‘Taiwan media heating things up’

MECO chairman Amadeo Perez said they are still waiting for tempers to cool down.

Issues like Manila’s one-China policy and comments by Taiwanese investigators branding the incident as murder have complicated the situation, according to Perez.

“We are waiting for the right time because I was told by the secretary-general for Asian affairs, we should wait for the temperature in Taiwan to cool,” Perez said in an interview with dzMM radio.

“The Taiwanese are highly emotional and... the media in Taiwan is heating things up so tempers are running high,” he said.

A Taiwan investigative team that visited the country last week described the May 9 shooting of the fisherman as “murder,” which the Philippines vehemently rejected.

Perez said the Taiwanese had not coordinated with local authorities before making the accusation.

Perez said lines of communication between MECO and the Taiwanese foreign ministry were still active despite the controversy.

He said the Department of Justice was still studying a request for a joint investigation when the Taiwanese delegation led by Chen Wen-chi made their allegations of murder.

Perez warned the investigators’ remarks “will further inflame the people of Taiwan.”

The comments made by the Taiwanese investigators led by Chen in Manila echoed those made by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in Taipei on Friday who said the Filipino coast guard was not carrying out their job but “cold-blooded murder.”

Perez also said Taiwan wanted President Aquino personally to write a letter of apology, but this could be considered a violation of the one-China policy - recognizing Beijing rather than Taipei as the government of China.

Last week, Aquino sent Perez to Taiwan to convey his apologies but Taiwan rejected the message.

Perez thanked Ma Ying-jeou for his promise to protect the 87,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan after a Filipino worker there was attacked with a baseball bat amid public fury.

The Taiwan leader made the appeal to spare Filipino workers, but there were still reports of attacks and discrimination against Filipinos in the island.

Lawmakers, however, urged the government to make preparations for the possible evacuation of Filipinos from Taiwan should the fallout worsen.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas also called on Filipinos to rally behind government efforts to deescalate the tensions between Manila and Taipei over the incident.

“I don’t think that this has somehow diminished our national pride as indicated by some people but on the contrary, this action of the President only shows his humility and his true compassion for our people. That is something that we should be all proud about,” he said.

Treñas, however, said the Philippines should still prepare for the worst and start drawing up contingency measures to pull out Filipino workers from Taiwan and take measures to reemploy them elsewhere.

“Aside from mitigating the backlash of the unfortunate incident with Taiwan, the Palace also needs to intensify its efforts in ensuring that our Filipino overseas workers in Taiwan are safe and secure. Reports of untoward incidents on our OFWs are very alarming and needs to be addressed by the Palace,” CIBAC party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said.

“We may not know how this clash between the Philippines and Taiwan would end or when it would end,” he said.

‘A distraction’

There were reports that Taiwanese leaders were being forced to be tough against the Philippines in order to regain popularity among their people amid a weak economy.

Based on reports, Manila seems to have become a punching bag for Taiwanese leaders to cover up for their own failure to address the economic concerns of their people.

The reports also said the current administration of Taiwan was close to China despite the island being a renegade province and was being fueled to be hostile to the Philippines.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she sees bad faith on the part of Taiwan following a massive black propaganda against the Philippines.

Santiago suspected that Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou is using the issue as a “distraction” in a bid to make up for his unpopularity among his own countrymen.

“They should not use this issue as a distraction among their countrymen - their nationals getting angry at our (Filipinos) men there, to cover up (the Taiwanese president’s) inability to run his own country,” Santiago said over dzBB radio.

Santiago said saw acts of “bad faith” among some top Taiwan officials for bringing in their own media when they arrived in the country for an investigation.

“You can determine bad faith on their part when they brought their entire media for black propaganda... that is not friendly behavior,” she said.

Santiago said Taiwan couldn’t unilaterally order 87,000 Filipino workers there to go home because it will be considered a violation of human rights.

If it does, Santiago said the Philippine government could bring the issue before the United Nations’ Committee on Human Rights.

Santiago also recommended the review of the need to maintain MECO in Taiwan.

Santiago also added the Philippine government should also reconsider the relations with Taiwan under the one-China policy.

The Philippines officially recognizes Beijing under a one-China policy but maintains trade ties with Taipei.

She noted that only 23 countries recognize Taiwan as a separate country.

Although the Philippine still have some territorial issues with China, Santiago said it is about time that the government should determine once and for all if there is a need to retain MECO in Taiwan.

Santiago said the interpretation of international law on the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) can help the Philippines determine if the shooting of the Taiwanese fishing boat that resulted in the death of a fisherman happened in Philippine territory.

Since the Philippines has adopted a one-China policy, Santiago stressed top Philippine officials should also reconsider how it relates to China as a separate country from the mainland or as a province of China.

Santiago also justified the move of the Philippine Coast Guard, which she said was only doing its job of protecting Philippine territory.

She also supported the move for a fact-finding investigation into the incident.

She said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario should be the spokesman for the Philippine government in dealing with the issue.

Santiago said Del Rosario is “known for his sobriety, diplomacy and not a grandstander.”

“He always speaks on the standpoint of international law, so it is proper that he should be the spokesman,” she said.

Following the statements of Malacañang, Santiago said the others should defer to Del Rosario in addressing the issue.

Asked if the government will send an emissary to work with the Taiwanese to protect Filipinos there, Valte said they have not decided yet.

With regard to the possible impact of the tension to the country’s tourism sector, Valte said further exacerbating the tension would only hurt both the Philippines and Taiwan economically.

“There will also be a downside, not just on our part but also on their part. Having said that, of course, we will also look into focusing our energies on other markets that can cover up, in case for any projected impact on tourism front,” Valte said. -Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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