Taiwan Rejects Philippine Government’s Public Apology for Local Seaman Death

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

The clock was ticking for the Philippines, but the nation decided to issue a public apology over the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman. Taiwan’s foreign ministry gave the Philippines a 72-hour deadline, effective on Tuesday, to publicly apologize publicly for an incident that took place last week in the Luzon Strait, which separates two major fishing areas. According to the Taiwanese government, Philippine Coast Guards fired on a boat that was sailing in overlapping ocean economic zones, killing a 65-year-old local fisherman. As a result, Taiwan threatened sanctions against the Philippines.

The victim, fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, was shot dead last Thursday. The Filipino government has offered condolences to the victim’s family, but at first refused to issue a public apology until an investigation into the incident was concluded, despite what Taiwan threatened.

Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, has been criticized on his so-called “weak” foreign policy while the nation’s rival, Beijing, is faring well economically. As a show of strength, Taiwan was pressed to act swiftly to vindicate the alleged wrongful death of the seaman. However, given the fact that both nations are under serious domestic political pressure, the government agreed to apologize for the shooting.

Officials in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, threatened to recall their top diplomat in Manila and expel the Philippine counterpart. There was also talk of Taiwanese officials terminating Philippine migrant work contracts, which could have impacted the lives of 88,000 Filipinos that are currently living in Taiwan.

China, which claims Taiwan as part of its own territory, supported the call for an apology, calling the seaman’s shooting “barbaric.”

Many believed Philippine president Benigno Aquino would hold out on issuing the public apology until midterm elections next week, because an apology could have significantly hurt the party’s image. However, the government surprised its people by publicly apologizing on Wednesday.

The Philippine government had also planned to send a special envoy to Taiwan to convey apologies and condolences to the family of the deceased fisherman and have stated they will provide  “financial assistance” to the victim’s family.

The incident has already sparked an outrage in both nations. On Monday, hundreds of angry fishermen burned Philippine flags and threw eggs at Manila’s embassy in Taipei.

Taiwan threatened a naval exercise near Philippine waters on Thursday, involving a Kidd-class destroyer, a Perry-class frigate and three coast guard frigates, along with a number of fighter jets would also be involved in the drill. Though the  apology was issued, there wasn’t a definitive cancellation of the drill.

“The Philippines has made some positive reactions towards our demand,” said David Lin, Taiwan foreign minister, when asked if his government would still consider sanctions against Manila. This ambiguous response has many wondering what the nation has in store for the Philippines.

The Philippine Coast Guard admitted to firing at one of four Taiwanese fishing vessels, claiming it had crossed into its waters, but the victim’s son who was with his father and two other sailors on the boat at the time of the incident, has denied these allegations.

The fisherman’s boat was hit by more than 50 bullets, leading Taiwan to send protection for fisherman in waters near the Philippines.

Was the shooting merited? This is a question that has yet to be answered. Given that aside from Taiwan and the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea, is all fair in war?

According to Taiwan, the answer appears to be ‘yes.’

Taiwan rejected the apology and imposed sanctions against the Philippines on Wednesday. According to officials, the apology is unacceptable because it called the fisherman’s death “unfortunate and unintentional.”

Only time will tell what will transpire between the two nations, but if a naval attack is ordered, the lives of hundreds of seamen may be impacted.