The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed yesterday that a Taiwanese fisherman has been detained in the Philippines since Tuesday, but offered no confirmation of allegations that he had been trespassing in Philippine waters.
James Chou (周穎華), deputy director-general of the ministry’s Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said Taipei has lodged three demands regarding the case:
Manila has been asked to provide a report on the seizure of Tsai Po (蔡波) as soon as possible, treat him humanely and not file trespassing charges against him before the situation is clarified.
Chou said Manila had agreed to all three requests.
He said Tsai told the ministry that he had been arrested by several armed Filipinos while he was resting on Ditarem, an islet in the Philippines’ Batanes Islands at 3pm on Tuesday after diving for lobsters.
Tsai was then taken to a detention center on another islet where he has been held in custody, while his vessel was taken to the seaport of Basco, Chou said.
Tsai told the ministry that the police had not told him why he is being detained, Chou said.
A report in the Philippines’ Daily Inquirer quoted Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Armand Balilo as saying that Tsai “did not have pertinent documents and could not explain why he was within Philippine territory.”
Chou said that just because Tsai’s fishing boat was operating in waters south of latitude 20? north did not mean he was within the Philippines’ exclusive territory.
“The incident happened in disputed waters in the overlapping exclusive economic zones of Taiwan and the Philippines,” Chou added.
A provisional line in the disputed waters at a latitude of 20? north was unilaterally established by Taiwan in 2004 as the farthest point south to which the Coast Guard Administration regularly provides ships to safeguard Taiwanese fishermen.
According to Next TV, Tsai said by telephone that he had been handcuffed and tied up during his detention, and had been denied food for more than 10 hours.
“It was despicable,” Tsai told the TV station.
Chou said the ministry has lodged a protest over Tsai being denied food and urged the Philippines to treat him humanely.
The problem was addressed immediately, Chou said.
Following the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) by Philippine coast guard personnel on May 9 in the disputed waters, both countries agreed to principles for handling fishing disputes at a meeting on June 14.
Both sides agreed to refrain from the use of force in law enforcement actions and that one side should notify the other whenever a pursuit, boarding, inspection, arrest, detention, or related administrative or judicial procedures are carried out against fishing boats and crews from the other country.
Chou said government agencies were notified about Tsai’s detention at about 5pm on Wednesday. The ministry was sure that no violence or force was used in this case, Chou said.
Provincial police officer Victor de Sagon told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Tsai was among a group of suspects who were illegally fishing just off Siayan Island.
“They have been doing this for a long time. This is rampant poaching,” De Sagon said.
Tsai will be charged with poaching, which is punishable by a US$100,000 fine, confiscation of his catch, fishing equipment and fishing vessel, the officer said.
He denied reports that Tsai had been treated inappropriately.
“We are not violating his rights. He is being fed well, he underwent a medical check-up, and he is in regular contact with his wife and the [de facto] Taiwanese embassy in Manila,” De Sagon said.
Tsai, contacted by telephone by AFP from Taipei, said he did not understand why he had been detained.
Additional reporting by AFP