Trade-off? 'Bolder' Taiwan boats enter PH
MANILA, Philippines – In Manila, diplomats saw a glimmer of hope when investigators on Wednesday, August 7, bared their recommendation to charge Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel over a Taiwanese fisherman’s death.
It was, after all, one of the conditions set by Taiwan to remove its sanctions on the Philippines, including a hiring ban that left 16,000 Filipinos jobless. Taiwan lifted these sanctions on Thursday, August 8.
In Batanes, however, the situation is different.
Observers said because of the case involving PCG personnel, law enforcers have become reluctant to apprehend Taiwanese poachers intruding into Batanes waters. The case sends the wrong message, a maritime expert said.
Byron Peralta, a native of Batanes who spoke at the University of the Philippines (UP) on Wednesday, said the case has led to “bolder” Taiwanese intrusions. Peralta, once a fisherman himself, told Rappler that local fishermen saw Taiwanese vessels “almost every day” – up to 14 of these at a time. (Watch more in the video below.)
He said the investigation caused a chilling effect on law enforcers. “Hindi na sila nanghuhuli ngayon,” Peralta said in an interview after the UP forum. (They’ve stopped catching violators.)
‘Demoralized’ coast guard
Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, agreed the situation in Batanes is connected to the Taiwanese fisherman's death.
“It’s clear that they increased in number because the law enforcement assets were withdrawn from the area to face charges in Manila. That’s clear to me, because the vessel was pulled out from Batanes and docked in Manila while the investigation was ongoing, and no other vessel replaced it,” Batongbacal said in an interview with Rappler.
Rappler is still trying to reach PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo as of posting time.
Balilo on Thursday admitted demoralization among PCG officers.
“Sa kabila ng damdamin na medyo na-low morale du’n sa naging desisyon ay gawing isang opportunity for us to grow as an organization,” Balilo said in an interview with ABS-CBN News. (Despite our low morale because of the decision, I hope this becomes an opportunity for us to grow as an organization.)
The Palace on Friday, August 9, however quelled concerns that the Taiwanese might consider themselves “untouchables” in Philippine waters. “We are certain that out PCG will remain vigilant in guarding our waters and will observe the rules of engagement to avoid a similar incident,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Why succumb to pressure?
Batongbacal, on the other hand, criticized the Philippine government’s reaction to the Taiwanese fisherman’s death.
“If at the first sign of injury to other side, we are going to succumb to pressure and sanctions, then there’s really no resolve to speak of. So we might as well not make a fool of ourselves by showing off that we’re doing all of these efforts to strengthen defense, or talking very vocally about protecting our territory,” Batongbacal said.
He also said the government sends the wrong signal to its law enforcers. “The signal really that it sends is that, if they cause injury or harm, regardless of the circumstances, the government will charge them,” the professor explained.
The government, according to Batongbacal, should stick to “resolute and consistent” defense. “Even in the face of threats or sanctions, it should not waver.”
For him, Taiwan’s lifting of sanctions is “clearly a trade-off.”
He said: “The question that people should be asking is, what have we traded off? Is it really just, say, 8 coast guard personnel in exchange for allowing thousands of OFWs back into Taiwan? Or is it something else – which is, are we now actually trading off portions of our territory and parts of our resources in exchange for the lifting of sanctions?” – Rappler.com