The government yesterday reacted strongly to the killing of a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman who was shot by personnel aboard a Philippine government vessel on Thursday, saying the preliminary explanations provided by the Philippines were “totally unacceptable.”
A Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) patrol boat opened fire on Pingtung-based fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 at 10am on Thursday in disputed waters between Taiwan and the Philippines, killing Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), the Philippine government said.
Following meetings with Philippine officials since the incident, Taiwanese officials said they were not satisfied with the explanations provided by Philippine authorities.
Since the incident involved a Philippine government vessel, Taiwan has demanded that the Philippine government “offer a formal apology to the [Republic of China] government, provide compensation for [Hung’s] family and bring those responsible to justice,” Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said.
“The Philippines should take complete responsibility for the incident,” Lin said.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Shih (石定) said the ministry was told by the Philippines that the shooting involved “warning shots” aimed at “driving Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 out of what the Philippines considers its territorial waters.”
Representative to the Philippines Raymond Wang (王樂生) told Manila that the explanation was “totally unacceptable,” Shih said.
As the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has discovered that the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was riddled with 32 bullet holes, “clearly it was not warning shots,” he said.
According to international law, “a warning shot” should be fired “across the bows” of a vessel rather than at the ship itself, said Perry Shen (申佩璜), director-general of the ministry’s Department of Treaty and Legal Affairs.
CGA Deputy Minister Cheng Chang-hsiung (鄭樟雄) said the government has learned that the BFAR patrol vessel had BFAR and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel on board when the shooting took place and that “PCG officials opened fire.”
“I expressed strong anger at the Philippines’ savage act,” Cheng said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a press conference on the incident, after Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) called an impromptu meeting at which he instructed Cabinet members to make strenuous efforts to negotiate with Manila.
Cheng vowed that the CGA would strengthen patrols in the area where the incident occured.
“The CGA has sent two vessels equipped with 20mm machine guns and 40mm machine guns to patrol the waters. We have sufficient weaponry to ensure the safety of fishing vessels,” Cheng said.
According to government officials, there were some discrepancies between Taiwanese and Philippine sources on the circumstances that led to the shooting.
“The Philippines has begun its investigation. We have a different understanding of the causes of the incident and the exact location where it took place than those presented by the Philippines in its preliminary examination,” Shih said, without elaborating.
Government officials declined to comment further on the Philippines’ account of the incident.
“They [the Philippines] have their explanation for the incident, but our understanding was that [Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28] was not engaged in illegal fishing,” Lin said.
The Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was fishing in waters in which the exclusive economic zones claimed by Taiwan and the Philippines overlap, Lin said.
“Under no circumstances should Philippine government vessels use force against unarmed fishing boats from Taiwan or from any other country,” Lin said.
Furthermore, the actions of the Philippine vessel left the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 disabled and without power, which “was a violation of the duty to rescue at sea enshrined in international laws,” Lin said.
It was not the first time the Philippines has shot dead Taiwanese fishermen in the disputed waters.
In 2006, the Man Chun Yi, a Taiwanese fishing boat registered in Taitung County, was shot at by two Philippine marine police officers, causing one death and one injury.
The two Philippine police officers responsible for the shooting were charged by Taitung prosecutors, but they never came to Taiwan to appear in court and the case remains unresolved.
Family members of those shot in the 2006 incident said they did not receive any compensation from the Philippines, “not even an apology.”
Lin pledged yesterday that the government would work to discover the truth behind Thursday’s incident and “will continue with its three demands until they are fulfilled.”
The Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was scheduled to be towed back to Pingtung early today.
Upon arrival, prosecutors will investigate the shooting and the government would then produce an report, Lin said.
After both sides present their respective reports on the incident, both countries would launch a joint investigation if there are still differences of opinion over the circumstances in which the shooting took place, Lin said.
Meanwhile, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) condemned the Philippines for using force against the fishing boat and demanded that Manila investigate the incident and provide compensation to the victims.
“It is an extremely uncivilized act for the Philippine ship to fire 34 shots at an unarmed fishing boat ... We demand that the Philippines uncover the truth behind the incident, and we will not stop our pursuit until the issue is resolved,” he said during a visit to Greater Kaohsiung.
In addition to demanding an apology, the president said the government also asked the Philippine government to punish the officials involved in the attack, pay due compensation and ensure that no similar incident happens again.
Ma said no country should use force against an unarmed fishing boat, adding that the government would not dispatch naval ships to protect Taiwanese fishing ships, as the protection of the fishermen is the responsibility of the CGA.
“A country has the authority to enforce laws in its exclusive economic zone, but it can only send officials to board a fishing ship for inspection. No countries should use force against civilian boats,” he said.
Antonio Basilio, the Philippine Representative to Taiwan, was summoned by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Shih (石定) over the matter.
In a statement read to reporters, Basilio said the Philippine authorities are investigating the incident and the circumstances that led to such tragic outcome and will issue a report shortly.
“Regardless of the circumstances that led to the shooting, no words can express our sorrow at the loss of a precious life. We would like to express our sincerest condolences and apologies to the family of Mr Hung for their loss,” Basilio said.
Basilio said his government welcomes the participation of Taiwanese authorities to help determine the exact nature of the incident - including its location and the circumstances that led to the shooting.
“Should the investigation show that there has been wrongdoing on the part of any individual involved, they will be punished to the full extent of the law,” he said. “We cherish very much the friendly and historic relations between the people of the Philippines and Taiwan, and we do not wish nor will we allow such incident to harm those relations.”
Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih