Filipino staff hurt by fishing spat

FALLOUT::The failure of Filipino workers to secure new contracts in Taiwan following a recent dispute may have political and economic impacts for both nations

Staff writer, with Bloomberg

Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - Page 3

Taiwanese employers have not renewed contracts for about 10,000 Filipinos since the shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) by Philippine Coast Guard personnel in May sparked a diplomatic dispute and a hiring freeze.

Most of them were factory workers and about 77,000 Filipino workers remain in Taiwan, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office said yesterday.

Permits for about 3,000 workers each month will expire until December, Council of Labor Affairs official Chen Jui-chia (陳瑞嘉) said by telephone yesterday.

The shooting and the two nations’ disagreement over it have soured ties and the losses may slow Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s push to cut unemployment that stood at 7.5 percent at the end of April, a three-year high.

Taiwan was the seventh-biggest destination for Filipino workers last year, according to Philippine government data.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) recalled his representative from the Philippines and froze the hiring of workers from the country on May 15, rejecting Aquino’s apology over the fisherman’s death, which occurred in disputed waters.

Travel agencies canceled trips amid a broader Taiwanese halt to diplomatic engagement. The two nations have yet to release the results of their investigations into the incident.

The penalties levied on the Philippines may rebound on Taiwan, according to Ramon Casiple, executive director at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila.

“Taiwan has more to lose,” Casiple said in a telephone interview. “The Philippines is one of few countries that is still talking to Taiwan.”

The Philippines agreed to compensate Hung’s family and hold talks on fishing zones.

Initial talks were held on June 14 ahead of formal fisheries negotiations to be held at a future date.

Ma said he was not satisfied with the Philippine response to the May 9 shooting, highlighting strains in a part of the South China Sea beset by competing territorial claims from countries including Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and China.

“We are working on the lifting of the hiring freeze,” Amadeo Perez, chairman of Manila Economic and Cultural Office, said yesterday.

The US$21.4 billion in Philippine remittances last month helped boost an economy that grew at the fastest rate among the 17 biggest economies in Asia in the first quarter from the previous year. Money sent home by workers accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

Philippine investigators have endorsed charges against coast guard officers involved in the confrontation, Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on June 13. Aquino is reviewing the justice department report on the incident, his spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in Manila yesterday.

Ma late last month said that Taiwan will lift its economic measures against the Philippines if it responds positively to Taipei’s requests in regard to the shooting.