Philippine investigators have endorsed charges against coast guard officers involved in a confrontation that killed a Taiwanese fisherman, a shift that may improve strained relations between the two nations.
President Benigno Aquino is reviewing a report prepared by the National Bureau of Investigation into the May 9 incident, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a mobile-phone message today. “I cannot yet disclose the exact charges pending the president’s clearance,” she said, adding that they include both criminal and administrative offenses.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya had said on May 29 that the Philippines obeyed engagement rules in the shooting. The Philippines, which doesn’t formally recognize Taiwan under its one-China policy, agreed to compensate the family of the dead man and hold talks on disputed fishing zones. Aquino had also offered to apologize on behalf of the Filipino people.
The standoff highlights strains in a part of the South China Sea beset by competing territorial claims from countries including Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and China. Taiwan and the Philippines separately investigated the shooting.
“It looks like we are softening our stance and agreeing to Taiwan’s demand, which isn’t good for our national interest,” Earl Parreno, a political analyst at the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said by telephone. “This will demoralize our coast guard, which is a very important component of our territorial security.”
Government investigators were not influenced by Taiwan in making their recommendations, de Lima said. “Hopefully, the conclusions from both sides will jibe and won’t be that different.”
Officers on the patrol boat opened fire when the fishing vessel’s crew tried to stop them from boarding a bigger Taiwanese ship that was also in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, Abaya said May 29.
Taiwan rejected Aquino’s offer of an apology and imposed economic punishments. Travel agencies canceled trips amid a broader Taiwanese halt to diplomatic engagement.
Taiwanese visitors, who made up 4.2 percent of the 1.27 million foreigners who came to the Philippines in the first quarter, may drop by about 20,000 a month after a travel warning from Taiwan’s government, Philippine Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said on May 28.