Thursday, February 17, 2011

How deportation of Taiwanese to China affects Philippines-Taiwan ties



PHILIPPINES-TAIWAN relations is now under a severe strain. This was because of the decision of Philippine authorities to deport to China last February 2 fourteen (14) Taiwanese suspected of involvement in an alleged $20 million investment scam that victimized mainland Chinese nationals. These Taiwanese (and their 10 mainland Chinese cohorts) have standing arrest warrants in China and were arrested in the Philippines by NBI operatives based on information supplied by Beijing authorities.

According to presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, the 14 Taiwanese were deported to China because the Philippines does not want to be “a haven of international crime syndicates” since they are all members of an international crime ring. According to him, “on this basis and based on the evidence presented, the Philippines did what was proper.” He added that the “evidence is in China, the crime was committed in China, so it was in our best interest, in our national interest, to deport them to China.” He and other spokesmen of the Aquino government have repeatedly stressed that there is no need for the Philippines to apologize to Taiwan for its decision.

Understandably, the Taiwan authorities were outraged by the decision of the Philippines. It was hoping that the Philippines as a friend, (even if it does not have diplomatic relations with our country), should have instead deported the Taiwanese to Taiwan or just exercised jurisdiction on the case. It was reported that Taiwan has taken some “retaliatory measures” to express its disgust—it has started hiring foreign workers from Thailand and Indonesia to replace the OFWs in Taiwan and it has imposed some requirements that prolonged the processing period for OFWs wanting to get a job in Taiwan (from 12 days to 4 months).

Of course, if Taiwan was bitter and disappointed with the Philippine decision, China was in a jubilant mood. It was ecstatic. The Chinese embassy in Manila said that the arrest of the Taiwanese and their Chinese cohorts “is a joint operation of law enforcement cooperation between China and the Philippines in accordance with the one-China policy and the relevant bilateral arrangements.” China and the Philippines have an existing mutual legal assistance and law enforcement cooperation agreement and an extradition treaty, among others.

Some Observations

I do not challenge the right of Philippine authorities to do what they deem as appropriate to ensure that the Philippines is safe from international crime syndicates. This is its inherent right and duty. If they cannot (and will not) do this, they should be prosecuted for neglect of duty and they have no reason to stay in office even for a single second.

But I submit that arrest and handling of crime suspects should be carried out in accordance with established legal procedures to protect their right to due process.

In a democracy, this is a cardinal rule. The suspects in the investment scam, to include the 14 Taiwanese, were the subject of a habeas corpus writ issued by the Court of Appeals on January 31 and hearings on their case were scheduled on February 2. But why were they deported to China on the same date—even before the hearing on the case could start? Why the haste? Why was the habeas corpus writ issued by the Court of Appeals disregarded by the Bureau of Immigration authorities? These two issues should be clearly explained to Taiwan and even to the Philippine public.

I find it unfortunate the initial media reports that the Philippine government will not apologize to Taiwan for its decision to deport the 14 Taiwanese to China. The more this “no apology” stand is played up by Philippine media, the more bitter will Taiwan be towards the Philippines since it considers the deportation as an “inhumane act” towards its 14 nationals. I also believe that further straining the already strained relationship is the statement attributed to the Department of Justice (DOJ) that “it is up to China and Taiwan to resolve the issue involving their citizens.” I assume that the DOJ took this position because of the one-China policy adopted by the Philippines since 1975 when it established diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Lately, there are two developments that I consider as most welcome since it could certainly diminish the existing tense relations between the Philippines and Taiwan. First is the report that MECO Chairman Amadeo Perez has already sent a letter of apology to the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This gesture is most appropriate and timely—to prevent the further deterioration in the relations between the Philippines and Taiwan that could have severe adverse impact on our 80,000 OFWs in Taiwan and on the Philippine national economy.

The second favorable development is the report that MECO officials led by Chairman Perez will go to Taiwan this week to personally appeal to Taiwan authorities to reconsider the “sanctions” they imposed against the Philippines following its decision to deport the 14 Taiwanese to China. This trip of Chairman Perez is very necessary for damage control purposes. I hope he will succeed.

Some people say that the deportation decision made by the Philippines was part of its continuing effort to appease and win the goodwill of China, following the bloody bus hijacking incident in Luneta last year that caused the death of some Chinese from Hong Kong. I think this view is not totally incorrect. It is in our national interests to win and sustain the goodwill of China since it is a major trade partner of the Philippines, a major labor market for OFWs, and a major source of foreign investments and official development assistance for our country.

But I maintain that it is also in our national interest to win and sustain the goodwill of Taiwan since it is also a major trade partner of the Philippines, also a major labor market for OFWs and also a major source of foreign investments and humanitarian assistance for our country.

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