Taiwan and the Philippines are expected to sign an agreement covering law enforcement in fishery affairs by the end of July as part of an effort to improve cooperation following the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman last year, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said on Tuesday.
Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Director-General Benjamin Ho (何登煌) said that Taiwan had originally hoped to sign the agreement before the fishing season started this month, but deliberations over the precise wording still require approval from top authorities in the Philippines.
“Taiwan is waiting for Manila to complete its procedures,” he said.
The agreement is expected to bind both countries to avoid violent enforcement of maritime law and improve communications in a bid to avoid another incident like the death of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成), who was killed by Philippine Coast Guard officers on May 9 last year.
The Coast Guard officers sprayed bullets at Hung’s boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, while it was operating in waters where the two countries’ exclusive economic zones overlap.
Ho said that to resolve the long-standing fishery dispute between the two countries, both sides have held several rounds of talks and agreed on several issues.
These include no use of “force or violence” when patrolling fishing grounds, the establishment of a bilateral communication mechanism in the event of fishery incidents and the release of detained fishermen as soon as possible.
Ho said that although the agreement has yet to be signed, those terms have already been put into practice.
Asked if the agreement will be signed before the close of the fishing season at the end of July, he said: “I presume it will not take that long.”
Meanwhile, Ho said that the Philippine Department of Justice filed homicide charges last month against the eight coast guard officers who have been accused of being complicit in Hung’s death.
The department has instructed the coast guard to suspend the suspects from duty and keep them at coast guard headquarters, he said.
The agreement and indictments represent a big step forward for Taiwan and the Philippines after ties turned sour following the shooting.
Soon after the incident, Taiwan demanded a formal apology over the shooting, justice for those responsible, compensation for Hung’s family and bilateral fishery talks to prevent similar incidents.
Taipei imposed a number of sanctions against Manila until the four demands were met, including a freeze on the hiring of workers from the Philippines. The sanctions were lifted in August last year.