THE reciprocal investigations on the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman on May 9 by Philippine Coast Guard personnel may soon heal the strained ties between Manila and Taipei, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
On Monday, a team from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) flew to Taiwan to gather more details on the incident. On the same day, a group of Taiwanese probers arrived in Manila on a similar mission.
“With the mutual or reciprocal visits of the Philippines and Taiwanese teams, it is expected that their respective separate investigations will be concluded soon and hopefully put closure to the factual issues surrounding the incident,” De Lima said.
She noted that the visits prove that Manila and Taipei are open to a peaceful solution of the situation.
“What is being demonstrated is the spirit of cooperation and openness between Philippine and Taiwanese authorities which can contribute, to a significant degree, to the restoration of normalcy of Philippine-Taiwan relations,” she pointed out.
The Taiwanese who arrived in Manila include investigators Lin Yeng Liang, Liu Chia Kai and Tseng Shih Che, Chang Hung Jui, Lee Jia Jinn, a forensic expert; Lee Jing Wei, a firearm expert; and Lin Guh Tyng, a technician.
“We don’t know yet how long we are going to stay for the investigation. It up to our prosecutors to decide,” Simon Lee, one of the members of the Taiwan Interpol, said.
On the other hand, eight NBI agents are now in Taiwan to wrap up their probe into the shooting incident.
The agents were held for about 30 minutes at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 because they could not present a travel authority.
The agents, led by David Daganzo, were allowed to leave after immigration authorities were informed of the group’s mission in Taiwan.
Immigration duty supervisor Leni Maminta quoted Daganzo as saying, “Ma’am, biglaan ang alis namin [we’re leaving in a hurry],” when the agents could not present a single travel authority.
Maminta explained that all government officials need a travel clearance or travel authority before they are allowed to leave the country.
The group was promptly whisked away upon arrival at Taoyuan airport in north Taiwan.
Each team will review how 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng was shot and killed by Coast Guard men, an incident which has spiked tensions between Manila and Taipei and prompted economic sanctions by Taiwan.
“The (Philippine) visitors will have a look at the autopsy report on Hung Shih-cheng this afternoon,” a spokesman for Taiwan’s justice ministry said.
The Filipino team will inspect evidence from local prosecutors, look at the fishing boat, review the boat’s log and inspect ballistic evidence, the spokesman said.
The team is expected back in Manila on Friday.
Taiwan said its own team will visit the Coast Guard vessel, inspect the guns used to fire on the fishing boat and review video footage.
The Philippines claims that the Taiwanese boat and several other vessels intruded Philippine waters and that the Coast Guard were forced to fire when the boat tried to ram their vessel.
Taiwanese officials have released the boat’s voyage data record and insist that the ship was within its exclusive economic zone when the shooting took place.
The zones claimed by the two sides overlap in some areas.
Also on Monday, a Hong Kong-based migrant workers’ group called on the Philippines and Taiwan to allow a third party to conduct “an independent and impartial” investigation on the killing of the fisherman.
Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) said in a statement that as the “diplomatic crisis” between Taipei and Manila “drags on,” Manila and Taipei must consider the possibility of tapping the expertise of the United Nations and its relevant agencies.
“It is only through this initiative can we be able to discern which rules of engagement were followed or violated, what international conventions will govern or can be applied in the said situation as well as formulate actual recommendations in the resolution of the case,” APMM said.
The group said “queries and doubts are likely to be raised by both governments on whatever results will come out of these investigations. We can only suspect that objectivity in the conduct and analysis of the investigation will be maintained.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism said the sanction imposed by the Taiwan government which issued a red travel alert to “discourage” Taiwanese tourists from visiting the Philippines would “somehow” affect this year’s 5 million tourist target.
“There are 6,500 seats that can no longer be used because this represent charter flights. So, that’s [a]loss [and]that would affect the target,” said Daniel Corpuz, Tourism undersecretary for planning and promotions.
Corpuz added that they expect “something like 9,000 cancellations covering the month of May and June.”
“Remember these are group movements. These are packages that are sold in the Taiwanese market,” he said.
The four major markets last year and for the first four months this year remain to be Korea, the US, Japan and mainland China.
“Korea continues to surprise us increasing by double-digit figures or about 20 percent increase in the previous year, Japan is around 5.1 percent so those figures look quite good news,” Corpuz said.
‘I love Taiwan’
Along with the NBI agents who flew to Taiwan on Monday were 17 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who work in electronic factories on the island.
The OFWs, who were wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “I Love Taiwan” in Chinese characters in front and flags of both countries at the back, boarded a 10:45 a.m. China Airlines flight CI-702.
The Filipino workers have been issued work visas by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) before Taiwan imposed sanctions against the Philippines such as the freezing of applications for work permits, cessation of economic exchanges and military exercises between the two sides.
A jovial Rowena Lou Manuel, 32, said that her group is bound for Hsinchu City, which is home to 360 high-tech electronic companies.
“I am not afraid because I trust myself and I need work,” she said, adding that their deployment agency, J.S. Contractors, Inc., told them that Hsinchu is peaceful.
She said that most of her colleagues had already worked in Hsinchu, where they are paid the equivalent of P30,000.
“Nowhere can we find work here that pays us P30,000 a month. That is why we keep on coming back to Taiwan,” she further said.
With Manuel are Jacqueline Corpin, Evangeline Perez, Princess Presa, Zenaida Salazar, Lolita Tagalag, Annalyn Atienza, Jennifer Bacarias, Hazel Sanchez, Sandy Grace Burlacio, Diana Ross Molina, Nora Quntapay, Jerome Buduan, Marlon Dogelio, Benigno Langcay, Andrew Remolocio and Ferdinand Villaverde.
WITH REPORTS FROM AFP AND ROSALIE PERIABRAS