, FEBRUARY 14, 2011 (STAR) By Michaela P. del Callar - Taiwan has called for the immediate forging of a mutual legal assistance agreement with the Philippines to shield its nationals against unlawful arrests and deportations to third countries.

Taipei made this plea in light of the deportation to mainland China of 14 Taiwanese allegedly connected to a big-time telecommunications fraud syndicate operating in the Philippines.

In a statement sent to the Tribune by the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (Teco), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Manila explained that such legal bilateral mechanism would allow the Philippines and Taiwan to assist each other in the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial processes related to criminal matters involving their respective nationals.

“To prevent such undesirable consequences from happening again in the future, an agreement on mutual judicial assistance between Taiwan and the Philippines should be concluded as soon as possible,” the Teco statement said.

It also called for the reopening of the case against the Taiwanese, citing “apparent flaws in the process of the said deportation handled by Philippine authorities.”

“It is recommended that a review and reinvestigation into the case per se should be conducted as soon as possible

to protect the rights and interests shared by all people in the Philippine territory, so that justice may be maintained, particularly with regard to human rights, as well as fairness of the judicial and administrative process,” Teco said.

Manila does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a democratic self-governing island that has been separated from the Chinese mainland since 1949, but still claimed by China as part of its territory.

Not a single Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which the Philippines is a member, has forged diplomatic relations with Taiwan due to the One-China Policy. China objects to any foreign contact that appears to treat Taiwan as a sovereign government.

In retaliation to the Philippines’ deportation of its nationals, Taiwan said it will strictly review the applications of Filipinos who wish to work in Taiwan and cancel preferential treatment for Philippine nationals to file visa applications for free online. It has also recalled its representative to the country.

Unfazed by Taipei’s threats, Manila maintained that it will not apologize to Taiwan for its action, stressing that it merely acted on a standing Interpol alert and a Chinese government warrant of arrest against the suspects. Taiwan is not a member of the Interpol.

Taiwan is home to around 100,000 Filipino workers. Majority are employed in electronic assembly and manufacturing factories while around 20,000 work as caregivers.

A number of Filipino workers bound for Taiwan have already felt the sting of Taipei’s retaliatory acts, citing the long waiting period for the processing of their visa applications. Before the incident, waiting time for working visa application only took a maximum of two weeks.

President Aquino will send an emissary to Taiwan to explain its side and hopefully iron out the kinks between the two sides.

Malacañang, meanwhile, yesterday said the government’s plan to send an emissary to Taiwan will not violate the One-China policy.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told the state-run radio dzRB that its plan to send an emissary is aimed at explaining further and properly the actions undertaken by the Philippine government and to resolve matters regarding the employment and welfare of thousands of Filipinos working and residing there.

“It’s not a violation. It’s a trade and tourism issue as well. We need to explain it to them, for the sake of the welfare of Filipinos working in Taiwan,” she said. Danessa O. Rivera  


Manila witnesses snub HK inquest hearings by Rey E. Requejo

WITNESSES in the August 2010 Luneta hostage-taking case, in which eight Chinese tourists were killed, are snubbing Hong Kong’s investigation of the incident, with 70 of the 116 invited declining to testify before the coroner’s office next week, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Friday.

De Lima, who led the local investigation into the incident last year, said only police crime lab personnel had agreed to go to Hong Kong to explain their findings to the investigating panel.

Manila Vice Mayor Francisco Moreno, Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay, former Manila Police District director and hostage negotiator Supt. Orlando Yebra Jr., were among those who officially declined the invitation.

Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who was the local crisis management committee head during the hostage crisis, also declined Hong Kong’s invitation to testify, as did the tourist bus driver Alberto Lubang and the employees of Direction Travel and Tours Inc.

On Aug. 23, 2010, dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza commandeered a bus and held its passengers, mostly tourists from Hong Kong, hostage. An 11-hour standoff ended with Mendoza killing eight of his hostages in a shooting rampage.

“Those who confirmed their attendance were personnel from the National Police Crime Lab. Yesterday [Thursday] we sent a letter to the chief state counsel [with a] list of those who declined the invitation,” De Lima said.

She said they were still waiting for a clarification from Hong Kong authorities regarding the scope of the investigation.

“They reiterated what they said from the start, that it’s for the determination of the real cause of death of eight of their nationals. I’ll consult the office of the chief state counsel for the list of those who declined,” De Lima said.

She said Manila had yet to receive an official acknowledgment of a request to apply the country’s mutual legal assistance treaty with China to the Filipinos who would be testifying in Hong Kong.

“But they already explained that the inquest proceedings are not criminal proceedings, so technically are not covered by the [treaty],” she said.

The Hong Kong representatives assured Philippine officials that the witnesses would be protected, De Lima said, adding she had received no invitation to appear before the coroner’s office, so there was no reason for her to go to Hong Kong.

She said, however, that she might send a member from last year’s investigative panel to observe the proceedings.

She said the National Bureau of Investigation had already served summons on most of the 116 Filipino witnesses, mostly public officials and police officers. They were invited to appear before a fact-finding committee in Hong Kong on Monday, Feb. 14, but De Lima said participation was voluntary.

The Sing Tao Daily in Hong Kong reported that the 25-day hearing would be held in Cantonese instead of the usual practice of holding an inquest in English, and in view of the amount of attention the case had drawn from the community.

It said 32 Hong Kong people would give evidence including the survivors, the families of the hostages, and the staff of tour operator Hong Thai Travel.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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