The Philippine Congress yesterday began investigating a diplomatic row with Taiwan that erupted after Philippine authorities deported 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China early this month.
The Committee on Interparliamentary Relations and Diplomacy under the Philippines’ House of Representatives held its first hearing on the issue, focusing on whether Philippine laws and procedures were broken in deporting the Taiwanese to China along with 10 Chinese suspects on Feb. 2.
The probe was initiated by committee chairman Antonio Diaz, during a House plenary session two days earlier. The proposal was immediately passed.
According to House documents obtained by Central News Agency, Diaz slammed the Philippine Bureau of Immigration in a speech at the session for deporting the Taiwanese suspects to China in spite of a writ of habeas corpus issued by the country’s Court of Appeals on Jan. 31 that ordered the National Bureau of Investigation, the immigration bureau and the Department of Justice to bring the detainees to a Feb. 2 hearing.
The deportation sparked outrage and drew a strong protest from Taiwan, which initiated retaliatory measures, including recalling its envoy in Manila, tightening the screening of applications by Philippine citizens seeking to work in Taiwan and canceling visa-waiver privileges for some Philippine citizens.
On Feb. 8, Al Francis Bichara, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also proposed that the committee should get to the bottom of the incident and assess its possible impact on bilateral relations.
The House’s Secretariat is dealing with the proposal and investigations are scheduled to get under way next week, congressional sources said.
Meanwhile, Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday said the row over the deported Taiwanese was an issue between Beijing and Taipei and did not involve Manila.
“Taiwan and Beijing are supposed to have this 2009 cross-straits [sic] agreement on crime fighting and mutual judicial assistance where they can really settle matters like this,” de Lima said in a TV interview.
“The Philippines is not a party to that. It is now up to Taiwan and Beijing to settle that matter [between] themselves,” she said, adding that the Philippines would not apologize over the incident.
In Taipei, the Ministry of Justice said that while it was unlikely Beijing would agree to immediately return the 14 Taiwanese suspects, it had asked Chinese authorities to do so, along with the legal evidence, after Chinese prosecutors have completed their investigation.
“So far, China has not responded to our request,” said Tsai Rei-tsong (蔡瑞宗), director of the ministry’s Department of Prosecutorial Affairs.
The ministry has requested that the 14 Taiwanese be tried in Taiwan using legal evidence provided by China, he said, adding that it had promised Beijing that prosecutors would seek heavy sentences.
Additional reporting by Rich Changting by Rich Chang