Wednesday, 22 May 2013 08:00 Published in Headlines
U.S. FBI ASKED TO ASSIST IN PROBE
Taiwan termed yesterday the death of fisherman Hung Shi-cheng from the hands of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) members as an “extra-judicial” killing as it released a satellite record of the route of a fishing boat fired upon by the coastguards to flatly reject the government’s allegations that the boat intruded into Philippine waters.
The PCG’s excessive use of force against an unarmed Taiwanese fishing boat, which resulted in the death of a Taiwanese fisherman, should be classified as an “extra-judicial and inhumane killing,” an international press statement of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECO) in the US said.
The US TECO said that US federal investigators will be sought to assist in the shooting incident as it cited a high-profile case involving the disappearance of US high-school student Natalee Holloway on the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba in 2005.
The statement said that the Dutch and Aruban authorities quickly agreed to bring the FBI and other US officials into the investigation in an effort to avoid potential adverse effects on bilateral relations after the case became a media sensation in the US.
“Taiwan is asking for no more than this — a joint investigation. It’s a serious human rights issue and there is no legal problem for Taiwan and the Philippines to jointly conduct the investigation,” the statement added.
“Extra-judicial killings, such as in this case, have been an ongoing human rights issue in the Philippines. International focus on the issue reached such a high level of concern
that the US House of Representatives sent a staff delegation to Manila in 2007 to fully vet the issue with Philippine government officials,” the press release said.
A joint patrol of the PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources sprayed bullets at the unarmed Taiwanese fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing 28 on overlapping economic zones of both countries last May 9.
65-year-old fisherman Hung Shih-cheng died in the incident that left the boat riddled with 45 bullet holes.
The TECO in the US also made known to international media the details regarding the incident, as well as the Taiwanese government’s stance on the shooting and its dismissal of the Philippine government’s description of the incident as “an unintended loss of life.”
The press release attached an illustration showing that the Philippine government vessel was about six times that of the Taiwanese fishing boat, rebutting the the government’s claims that the shots were fired in self-defense after the Taiwanese boat had tried to ram it.
The statement said a joint investigation mechanism should be established in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Agreement signed between Taipei and Manila earlier this year.
It quoted Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou as saying that he believed “the incident requires both sides to cooperate with each other on the investigation pragmatically, and only by doing so can the truth be revealed.”
The statement also urged Manila to start fishery talks with Taipei to avoid recurrence of such incidents, as has been demanded by the Ma administration, and to refrain from using its “one China” policy as an excuse for not issuing an apology.
“The Ma administration has laid out four demands in response to the shooting — that Manila issue a formal apology, compensate Hung’s family, investigate the incident to identify and punish the perpetrators and initiate negotiations on a bilateral fisheries agreement,” it said.
Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency said the voyage data recorder from the fishing boat showed it was not in Philippine waters when it came under fire on May 9.
“The satellite records indicated that the Guang Ta Hsin 28 had been fishing within Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone throughout,” the agency’s deputy chief Tsay Tzu-yaw told AFP.
“Since the Philippine authorities repeatedly alleged that the fishing boat had intruded into their waters, then why not make public the video records they claim they have taken from the coastguard boat?”
The government said it would make “coordinated efforts” with Taiwan to look into the incident.
Its coastguards claimed that the fishing boat intruded into Philippine waters and tried to ram their vessel, forcing them to to open fire.
Ma also earlier termed the killing “cold-blooded murder” based on an initial inquiry by Taiwan, which showed that the boat had more than 50 bullet holes and showed no signs of ramming.
The incident has sharply raised tensions between Taipei and Manila, sparking concern from Washington.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) team would fly to Taiwan to examine the fishing boat and interview survivors.
De Lima said the Taiwanese investigators would be given access to their evidence, including statements from the coastguard.
President Aquino has personally apologized for the incident but Taiwan has rejected his apology and announced sanctions.
These include a ban on the hiring of new Philippine workers, recalling its envoy and staging a naval drill in waters off the northern Philippines.
Taipei has repeatedly pressed Manila to issue a formal government apology, to compensate the fisherman’s family and to apprehend the killer.
Philippine officials say the issue of a formal apology is complicated by the fact that Manila officially recognizes Beijing over Taipei.
De Lima said an 8-man NBI group will perform the task of investigating the vessel that was fired upon by the PCG, interview with some of its crew up to the re-autopsy of the body of the slain fisherman if the family would allow so.
De Lima during an interview at the NBI headqurters said that they had just finished a closed door conference by the NBI team that conducted the investigation on the shooting incident on the Taiwanese fishing vessel.
She added that the result of the investigation done in Manila will not be exhaustive if the NBI team will not examine the said fishing vessel which is now in Taiwan
Taiwanese tourists bound for the resort island of Boracay, meanwhile, have started cancelling their hotel reservations causing worry to the stakeholders.
This developed after Engr. Percy Malonesio, head of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) at the Kalibo International Airport (KIA), announced Tuesday that several airline companies had notified cancellation of flights to and from Taiwan beginning May 22.
“We have received information from the Mandarin Airlines that they will be cancelling their flights coming from Taiwan beginning tomorrow. We expect notifications from other airline companies such as the Zest Airlines and the Philippine Airlines to also follow through anytime today,” said Malonesio. With Pat C. Santos, PNA, AFP
President Aquino yesterday announced a $1.8-billion military upgrade to help defend his country’s maritime territory against “bullies” amid an ever-worsening dispute with China.
In thinly veiled comments referring to China, Aquino vowed during a speech to mark the Navy’s 115th anniversary that the Armed Forces would be given the resources necessary to protect Philippine sovereignty.
“We have a clear message to the world: The Philippines is for Filipinos, and we have the capability to resist bullies entering our backyard,” Aquino told naval chiefs.
Aquino detailed a P 75-billion ($1.82-billion) military modernization program that gives priority to upgrading the Navy, which is one of the weakest in Southeast Asia.
He said by 2017 the Philippines would acquire two new frigates, two helicopters capable of anti-submarine warfare, three fast vessels for coastal patrols and eight amphibious assault vehicles.
“We will also improve our communications, intelligence and surveillance systems,” he said. Aquino said the government had already spent P28 billion on military modernization over the past three years, including on two refurbished Hamilton-class cutters acquired from the US coastguard.
The first, renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar, entered service as the navy’s new flagship in 2011. The second is due to be delivered in August.
The Philippines had also announced this year that it would acquire for its coastguard 10 new patrol boats from Japan.
The increasingly bitter territorial dispute with China is over competing claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit above vast amounts of oil and gas. It is home to rich fishing grounds.
China insists it has sovereign rights to most of the South China Sea, including waters approaching the coast of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
China has in recent years taken what the Philippines and Vietnam say are increasingly aggressive actions to assert its claims.
The Philippines says China has since last year occupied a shoal 230 kilometers from the main Philippine island of Luzon.
The shoal is 1,200 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass.
Even with the extra spending announced by Aquino, the Philippines’ military budget will still dwarf China’s.
China announced in March its defense budget for 2013 would be about $115 billion.
Meanwhile, despite the presidential bravado on resisting the Chinese “bullies”, China has sent more Chinese fishing vessels , escorted now by a Chinese military chief, and there appears nothing that the Philippine military can do to chase these vessels away.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin yesterday confirmed the presence of Chinese fishing vessels, escorted by a military ship, within the country’s territorial waters along the Kalayaan Islands Group (KIGs) or Spratlys in the disputed South China Sea off Palawan.
Interviewed by reporters during the anniversary celebration of the Philippine Navy in Cavite, Gazmin said that government authorities are now in the process of documenting the Chinese activities in the disputed region, particularly along Ayungin, for filing of another diplomatic protest.
“They (Chinese) are undertaking activities there,” admitted Gazmin.
Pressed what the Chinese were doing, Gazmin replied “they are fishing there inside our (territory).”
Gazmin said that the Chinese fishing vessels were “accompanied, escorted by a naval ship.”
Asked if the intruding vessels were definitely Chinese, Gazmin said “they are Chinese, they have flags.”
However, it was not established when the Chinese had arrived in the area, which was within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone.
Earlier, Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon revealed supposed harassment last May 15 by Chinese vessels against his group while sailing along Philippine-claimed Ayungin, which is part of the KIGs.
Bito-onon said that his group, composed of 127 individuals aboard a motor launch, was tailed by a very fast vessel, he claimed to be Chinese, until passing by a bigger ship which he failed to identify.
Navy chief Vice Admiral Jose Luis Alano also confirmed the presence and activities of the Chinese along Ayungin but could not say how many foreign vessels are there in the area.
“There are several (Chinese fishing vessels) in the area, we are still trying to validate how many, where exactly they are,” said Alano.
Gazmin said he has asked for a “documented report” of the incident to be forwarded to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for the filing of a protest.
“The DFA is awaiting the documentation of that (incident) and we will file a protest,” Gazmin said.
The latest intrusion came amid the continuing tension between the Philippines and China over the disputed West Philippine Sea where the Chinese have increased their presence and activities.
The Philippine government has filed several diplomatic protests against China over its increasing intrusion into Philippine-owned territories in the West Philippine Sea. last January, Manila filed formal complaint against Beijing before the International Tribunal on the Laws of the Sea.
In a provocative move that could spike tensions anew between Manila and Beijing, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships and a warship were spotted off Ayungin Shoal, which Manila says is within its territorial waters.
The government ships appeared to have accompanied some 30 Chinese fishing vessels which are scattered in Ayungin Shoal, the Kalayaan Island Group and the Mischief Reef - a rich fishing ground within Philippine territory but came under Chinese control in 1995. Mario J. Mallari, AFP and PNA
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