Philippines Says It Obeyed Engagement Rules in Sea Shooting

The Philippines said a coast guard vessel obeyed the rules of engagement when it fired on a Taiwanese boat in a May 9 confrontation that killed a fisherman and strained relations between the two countries.

Officers on the patrol boat opened fire when the fishing vessel’s crew tried to stop them from boarding a separate, bigger Taiwanese ship that was also in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya told reporters in Manila today. The shots were meant to immobilize the fishing boat that was blocking the way, he said.

“We complied with the rules of engagement,” Abaya said. “There is no authority to fire at human beings or target them, and whoever died was not seen.”

Taiwan and the Philippines are separately investigating the shooting, which has soured trade ties after Taiwan rejected President Benigno Aquino’s offer of an apology and imposed economic punishments. 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.

“We want to show that if China intrudes into our waters, we will take an equally harsh stance,” Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone. “Aquino could have officially apologized and scolded the coast guard to end it all, but he didn’t.”

’Continuously Monitoring’

Travel agencies have 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 yesterday.

In an interview earlier this month, the captain of the Taiwanese fishing boat, Hung Yu-chi, called the Philippine coast guard attack unprovoked and said his fishing boat had been in Taiwanese waters. He said his father was struck by a bullet and killed as he and the crew hid in an engine room.

No traces of a collision were found on the hull of the fishing boat, Taiwan’s Justice Ministry said in a statement on its website today.

Philippine authorities are “continuously monitoring” the fishing area off the coast of the northern Philippine province of Batanes in the South China Sea, where the shooting occurred, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Asis Perez said in a separate briefing today.

Agriculture officials from the Philippines and Taiwan will hold fishery talks by July as part of a continuing dialogue, he said, adding that meeting had been scheduled before the diplomatic tensions began.

Conduct Code

“We hope to establish a code of conduct for fishing and to ensure the safety of fishermen,” Taiwan Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Anna Kao said by phone today. She called Perez’s remarks a “positive development.”

The Philippines assured China it would only send food and water to its soldiers on Ayungin Shoal in the disputed Spratly Island area and won’t build other structures there, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told reporters in a separate briefing today after meeting with Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing.

China is monitoring the BRP Sierra Madre vessel that serves as a base for Philippine soldiers after it went aground in 1999 on the shoal, which is 110 nautical miles off Palawan province, Gazmin said in Manila.

There are currently two Chinese surveillance vessels in the area, Philippine Navy spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said by phone today.

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