In his article “How Taiwan Bungled the Philippine Crisis” on May 21, J. Michael Cole indicated that Taipei missed a golden opportunity to de-escalate the situation. That was when Philippine President Aquino dispatched MECO Chairman Amadeo Perez to Taipei to convey his “deep regret and apology over the unfortunate and unintended loss of life.”
The fact is that the personal apology conveyed by Mr. Perez for the Philippine Coast Guard’s “unintended” killing of a Taiwan fisherman is certainly not enough of an assurance for Taipei to begin healing its wounds. It is, instead, another attempt by Manila to evade the Philippine government’s responsibility in this tragedy.
Nuance is critical in diplomacy. Unfortunately, from day one, Manila has misused its diplomatic language in an attempt to reassure Taipei and, as a consequence, has bumbled into an avoidable row. “The propitious time to cease escalation,” as described by Mr. Cole, quickly passed by in the first few days. Manila missed a golden opportunity to seize the initiative and defuse the situation.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
On May 10, one day after the Taiwan fisherman’s body was taken back to Taiwan and the public's outrage began to boil over, President Aquino’s Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte defended the Philippine Coast Guard against the alleged “aggressive act” of the Taiwan fishing boat GDX 28. “It was an aggressive act. The ramming of the boat into our vessel was certainly an aggressive act, so the PCG responded accordingly,” she said. Obviously Manila was trying to paint the PCG's killing as an act of self-defense against an aggressor
That approach was badly received by the Taiwan public. If Manila is really serious about conducting a transparent and impartial investigation of the killing, as previously promised, how could the Philippine government prejudge the Taiwan fishing boat as the aggressor and certify its “ramming” into the PCG, given that Manila's investigation was not yet even completed? At this stage, Taiwan has a legitimate concern over Manila’s attitude regarding the investigation of its own officials.
After all, this situation is not too complicated for the public to understand. The claim that the attack was necessary to prevent a ramming of the Philippine’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel by the Taiwan fishing boat appears ludicrous given the disparity in size and weight between the two ships. The Philippine government vessel was roughly six times the size of the Taiwanese fishing boat. In addition, according to Taiwan's initial investigation, there is no evidence of any ramming found at the fishing boat to support Manila's claim of self-defense.
In addition, fifty-nine bullet holes from Philippine officials’ automatic weapons fire were found to have punctured the fishing boat’s cockpit, where the crew of father and son were hiding. This clearly demonstrates that Philippine Coast Guard personnel showed no restraint whatsoever in their sustained shooting barrage into an unarmed vessel. The excessive use of force by the Philippine Coast Guard is a serious violation of international law. Mr. Cole, in his article, also agreed at least that it was a disproportionate response by the Philippine authorities.