The attack on a Taiwanese fishing boat by Philippine Coast Guard personnel has caused widespread anger in Taiwan and because there are no outlets for this anger, it is being directed toward Filipino workers.
The government has frozen the hiring of Filipino workers as a bargaining chip in talks, politicians have led the public in Philippine flag-burning ceremonies, netizens are asking if beating up Filipinos is legal, while some shop owners have [reportedly] put up signs like “We don’t serve Filipinos” and “Please don’t shoot me.” There have also been reports of Filipinos being attacked and beaten as they walk down the street. It all makes for very disturbing reading.
This situation raises the question of whether there are any laws to curb such behavior. Article 62 of the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法) states: “No person shall discriminate against people residing in the Taiwan Area on the basis of nationality, race, color, class or place of birth. Any person whose rights are trespassed due to the discrimination mentioned in the preceding paragraph can file a complaint with the competent authorities on the basis of the situation of the trespass, unless the matter is otherwise regulated by other laws.” This is what the law says, but is it enforced? No.
In 2010, a senior-high school teacher asked a student whose mother is from Indonesia whether they were “barbarians,” and told them to “Go back to Indonesia and be a barbarian there,” among other inappropriate comments. This infuriated another Indonesian woman who saw the news report and, worried that the teacher’s negative example would increase social prejudice and misunderstanding about immigrants in Taiwan, she filed a discrimination complaint.
In 2011, a Vietnamese woman read an online article entitled “Vietnam: a country whose women use their private parts to come to Taiwan and make money.” She felt that such discourse could affect Taiwanese subconsciously and indirectly make it difficult for her to build a relationship of mutual trust with her husband’s family, and so she also filed a complaint.
The result? In both cases, it “could not be established” that discrimination had taken place: in the former because the person filing the lawsuit was not a party to the incident, and in the latter because the rights of the woman had not been violated.
The line between discrimination and freedom of expression is unclear and insensitive handling of these issues could have a negative impact on freedom of expression. The problem is the Taiwanese government is effectively ignoring the discrimination clause.
First, filing a discrimination complaint is not an easy thing to do, and few foreigners in Taiwan can muster the courage, perseverance and time to fill in the necessary forms and complete a formal complaint.
Furthermore, in the current legal review mechanism, the requirements for establishing the fact that discrimination took place are excessively strict. The defendant must be an actual party to the discrimination: If the case is brought by anyone other than the person discriminated against, it will not stand.
For example, if the person filing a complaint about shopkeepers [reportedly] refusing to sell lunchboxes to a Filipino on the basis of their ethnicity had not actually been party to this refusal, that complaint will not be heard in court.
To make matters even more complicated, there is a very restrictive interpretation of what constitutes a violation of the rights of the person discriminated against. For example, emotional hurt or injury to one’s dignity are not considered to be violations of one’s rights.
All of this hobbles the discrimination clauses in Article 62 of the aforementioned act, making it difficult to punish discrimination or hate speech through legal channels, and the victim of discrimination is left with little choice but to let it go.
When this anti-Filipino feeling broke out, I got in contact with a Filipino friend of mine. She had been our Filipino home help and, unable to obtain residency rights, and wanting to be with her children and husband, is now staying in Taiwan on a student’s visa. Every semester she has to pay the tuition, which is not cheap, and is also expected to look after her aged mother-in-law and little girl. It is not easy.
She originally thought that once her residency status was sorted out, she could make a life for herself in Taiwan. However, with what is happening now, she says she is scared whenever she leaves the house, especially when she goes shopping, because everyone knows she is a Filipina. The shooting was the mistake of a few Filipinos. She is very sad that the man was shot, but finds it difficult to understand why some Taiwanese now hate all Filipinos.
The string of anti-Filipino incidents and verbal abuse makes a lie of the government’s long-held yet extremely weak and vacuous claim that Taiwan is a multicultural society that respects other ethnic groups. I only hope that the government and civil society can now, at the very least, start applying the supposedly “effective” anti-discrimination measures already in place.
Cheng Shih-ying is a social worker at the TransAsia Sisters Association of Taiwan.
Translated by Perry Svensson and Paul Cooper