By Catherine S. Valente And Bernice Camille Bauzon Reporters
Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) Resident Representative Antonio Basilio said an error in translation almost severed already frayed diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Taiwan.
“The Ministry of Justice of Taiwan issued a clarification on May 20 [on]what they meant by ‘joint investigation’ when translated from Mandarin,” Basilio explained in an email sent to The Manila Times detailing the circumstances on how the phrase “joint investigation” came about when both countries do not allow such.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd ordered Basilio, through Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, to explain why he committed to a “joint probe” on the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by Coast Guard personnel off Batanes when the President never sanctioned it.
In a summary of the report he also sent to del Rosario on May 19, Basilio maintained that he never mentioned joint investigation in his May 10 and May 14 letters to his Taiwanese counterparts, or in his meetings with Taiwanese officials.
“I wish to clarify reports that I had committed to a ‘joint investigation’ . . . There is no truth to that report,” Basilio said.
He pointed out that the misunderstanding came during the translation of the letters.
Basilio said the Deputy Minister of Justice has already clarified that “joint investigation” meant “that both parties have a cooperative effort in the investigation, for both parties to exchange the information/ documentation derived from the investigation to compare discrepancies and to move forward with the investigation.”
“This does not mean that our side requests/demand that our investigators will directly collect evidence directly from the Philippine side,” he said.
He stressed that even the justice ministry recognized that “a ‘joint probe or investigating panel’ was contrary to law in both Taiwan and the Philippines.”
“To avoid confusion, both sides agreed to use the word parallel or coordinated independent investigation which follows the process in the 2006 case,” he pointed out.
Basilio, meanwhile, denied that he agreed to a joint investigation of the killing without authorization from President Aquino.
“I did refer to an investigation process during a similar incident in 2006, where a Taiwanese fisherman was also killed in a law enforcement action. In that case, the investigating team from Taiwan, had requested access to interviews of witnesses and evidence and to confer with their counterpart investigators from the Philippines,” he said.
In turn, the Philippine investigators requested that they similarly be allowed access to witnesses and evidence in Taiwan, according to Basilio.
“This ad hoc procedure for arranging such exchanges has since been institutionalized under the MLAA and this case is the first application of this provision in the agreement,” he said.
Basilio added that the official letter he authorized to deliver to MOFA Minister David Lin “did not also make any reference to ‘joint investigation’.”
“It only said that the investigation being carried out by the National Bureau of Investigation and that MECO and TECO have made arrangements for coordination in the case of the ongoing investigation,” Basilio said, noting that “this request for ‘joint investigation’ was made in a letter to MECO on May 16, which it conveyed to the Department of Justice (DOJ).”
“The DOJ replied that this runs contrary to Philippine law and that this was no longer necessary since the NBI investigation has all but been completed. The Taiwanese side took this as a rejection of their request and went back to Taipei,” he added.
Basilio said the NBI team is preparing to leave for Taiwan while the Taiwanese team is preparing to return to the Philippines.