WHILE the Philippines and Taiwan enjoy good economic and cultural relations, a general framework agreement on fishing operations between the two nations has yet to be signed. With overlapping territorial seawaters based on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco) Representative Gary Song-Huann Lin said that a formal agreement on fishing operations can further strengthen bilateral ties of the two countries.
In a lunch gathering with members of the media, Ambassador Lin discussed Teco’s ongoing initiative to formally sign an agreement on fishing operations, especially for over-lapping sea territories to the Philippines’ north and Taiwan’s southeast.
“The formalization of a general framework on fishery is urgent for two sides so we can continue restoring relations. There will be more attraction for [Taiwanese] tourists to come back to the Philippines; investments will increase; and this will establish the Philippines’ good will for peace,” Lin enumerated.
Lin touched on discussions on maritime operations between Teco and its Manila counterpart, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), which began shortly after a Philippine Coast Guard personnel shot a Taiwanese fishing boat operating along the area of the Balintang Channel in Batanes. The said shootout led to the death of a Taiwanese fisherman on May 9, 2013.
With other concerned agencies involved, the Teco ambassador said he is still waiting for Meco and the Philippine government to accept the terms and formally sign the agreement.
Realizing the difficulty of identifying boundaries on open seas, Taiwan hopes to establish a joint committee that will conduct continuous discussions on territorial issues, while moving forward to formalize a “very general framework” on fisheries within overlapping economic waters.
According to Lin, there are three basic conditions found in this agreement—first is that both countries will not use force when patrolling seas; governments must inform each other in the occurrence of fishing incidents; and that detained boats and fishermen will be released as soon as possible.
“The petition of my government is simple, as we want to create a general understanding between two countries. First is to avoid the use of force—fishermen are not armed and should not be shot by force. Secondly, it is to inform each other when problem happens—if there have been arrests, there should be information on which boat was detained, how many men are involved, and also to inform their families.
“And last is to work on the immediate release of detainees—if there would be a fine imposed, detainees are to be released as soon as this has been settled,” Lin explained.
Admittedly, the ambassador said that the Balintang Channel incident has strained relations between the two countries. With over 230, 000 Taiwanese tourists visiting the Philippines before the incident, the statistic drastically decreased in half after the shooting occurred.
“While most Taiwanese tourists enjoy playing golf and going to the casino for recreation, the number of tourists has decreased in half because of bad publicity that came from the shooting incident. But this [relationship]takes time re-build, so I make an effort to go around the Philippines to show my people that Filipinos are very friendly and warm. But we need to get this fishery agreement done,” Lin urged.
As this agreement remains a top priority in the ambassador’s agenda, he emphasized that fisheries is “just one aspect between Philippine-Taiwan relations,” and enumerated other promising areas of partnership, especially in agriculture and education, as well as in information and communications technology (ICT).
“The Philippines has fertile land, but rice production is not so good. The Philippines can export to Taiwan but you do need a lot of resources. Products like pork and corn are now being imported from the US, but it is not fresh when it reaches Taiwan, so there are plenty of opportunities for agricultural trade between our neighboring countries,” the ambassador enthused.
“On the other hand, Taiwan is an important supply chain of ICT and the Philippines can be our partner in manufacturing ICT,” he added, citing that Taiwan has hired over 80,000 Filipino workers, mostly employed in this sector.
Lin further stressed that besides economic relations, he hopes that the Filipinos and Taiwanese work towards a “deeper understanding” of culture and history, by continuously organizing cultural activities and student-exchange programs.