Philippine government to explain to Taiwan

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Thursday, February 10, 2011


MANILA -- President Benigno Aquino III said Thursday that he plans to send an emissary to Taipei to explain the government's decision to deport 14 Taiwanese, who were tagged in an investment scam, to China.

"I might be sending an emissary to discuss with them particular issues and to explain why we decided the way we decided," Aquino said in an interview after the signing of memorandum of agreement on the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino in Malacañang.

Aquino, however, said the emissary to be sent to Taiwan will still be subject to the restrictions imposed by the Philippine laws, apparently referring to the "One China policy."

Like other countries, the Philippines abide by the "One Chine policy," which recognizes Taiwan as part of mainland China.

The President added that the issue is being handled by the Manila Economic Coordinating Office (Meco).

Taiwan's sovereignty is a sensitive issue on both sides of the Taiwan Strait: Beijing considers the island part of China, while Taipei lobbies for recognition abroad. The Philippines considers self-ruled Taiwan a part of China but maintains friendly, if unofficial, relations with Taipei.

No need to apologize

Aquino's spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said there is no need for the Philippines to apologize to the Taiwanese government.

He said the Philippines respects Taiwan's decision concerning its citizens, but the government is standing pat on its decision to deport members of the international crime ring.

He stressed that the Philippines does not want to be a haven of international crime syndicates and the action was based on the protection of the country's national interest.

"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," Lacierda said.

The Palace official added that Meco was to make representations for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco), the de facto embassy of Taiwan in Manila, to the Taiwanese government on the issue.

Taiwan's representative to the Philippines, Donald C.T. Lee, demanded an apology Wednesday, saying the Philippines succumbed to pressures from China and should have sent the deportees to Taiwan, which has jurisdiction over them.

He indicated the "serious mistake" would have repercussions on 80,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan.

But Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday that the Philippines was unlikely to apologize because the deportees were undesirable aliens who were subjects of an arrest warrant and wanted by Interpol.

De Lima, however, aired optimism in the wake of reports that Taiwan is mulling adverse economic and labor options against the country, particularly against overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

"I am optimistic that the Taiwanese leadership will see the wisdom behind our move to deport the suspects to the PROC (People's Republic of China)," she said, adding: "Taiwan is an important partner not only in trade and investments but also in our war against international crime syndicates."

De Lima said the Philippine government has decided that deportation to the China will ensure that the suspected criminal elements are successfully prosecuted.

"It is also consistent with our national interest that we protect our country and citizens from undesirable aliens," De Lima said.

The 14 Taiwanese nationals will be facing prosecution for cross-border fraud involving some $20 million in swindled money. They were accused of involvement in a large-scale investment scam that victimized Chinese citizens in the mainland, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The Taiwanese nationals were arrested in December along with 10 Chinese. Charges have been filed in China related to an investment scam that defrauded Chinese nationals. They were picked up when an Internet Protocol address was traced to them in the Philippines, and deported to China last Wednesday.

Call to settle dispute

Earlier, local recruiters dealing with Taiwanese employers called on President Aquino to send his official "chief troubleshooter" to Taiwan in a bid to settle the brewing dispute.

In a press briefing, the Pilipino Manpower Agencies Accredited to Taiwan (Pilmat) said there should be a special mission that would be tasked to patch up the ongoing rift between the Philippines and Taiwan.

"We are requesting President Aquino to send ex-Senator Mar (Manuel) Roxas to Taiwan on a special mission to patch up the trouble with the Taiwanese government," said Pilmat president Jackson Gan.

To recall, Aquino had said he will be appointing Roxas, his defeated running mate, as his chief troubleshooter as soon as the election ban ends on May 10.

The President added the troubleshooter is eyed as the one to handle pressing issues that would need "extra attention."

Pilmat also assailed the new hiring policy adopted by the Taiwanese government that is requiring longer processing time and deployment of OFWs to Taiwan.

Gan noted that under the current requirement, the workers would have to submit original copies of necessary documents for their employment such as the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearance, birth certificate, and the Social Security System ID.

These documents, the recruitment expert said, need to be authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Teco.

According to Gan, these stricter requirements would add one to two months of processing time for OFW documents. "In the past, only file copies were required by Teco."

No contingency plan

An official of the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) said they have not prepared any contingency plan on the fate of OFWs in Taiwan.

"As of now, there is no contingency plan since there is no suspension, no repatriation, so the worst we could probably foresee is the delay in the issuance of visa, which was formerly seven to 12 days, but now minimum of two months," Labor and Employment Undersecretary Danny Cruz said.

The delay, he explained, will be on meeting the new requirements that include the authentication of documents like birth certificate, Social Security System ID, etc.

Cruz, however, admitted it will affect the deployment of workers there, but it will not be huge. "I'm sure it will affect our deployment, but not that much, since the market is not totally closed."

Statistics showed that the deployment of workers in Taiwan is estimated to be 40,000 every year. The projected number for 2011 is more than 1 million.

Cruz said the Meco is handling the issue by discussing with the representatives from the Taiwanese government.

On their part, they will meet with Philippine Overseas and Employment Administration (POEA) and overseas labor affairs to discuss how to assist the OFWs to comply with the new requirements in Taiwan.

The Labor official is confident that there will be no mass termination of Filipino workers there since the Taiwan government recognizes the efforts of the workers in helping their economy.

"As for mass termination and repatriation wala naman. Simply because our people are also helping with their economy, and their government also recognizes that," said Cruz.

Political backlash

On Thursday, a migrant workers group based in Hong Kong scored the Philippine government for its deportation of 14 Taiwanese nationals to China, citing the political backlash to OFWs in Taiwan and future applicants.

Joram Calimutan, Asia-Pacific Mission for Migrants program coordinator, said the Philippine government failed to see the possible backlash generated by its controversial decision.

"When the news broke out in Taiwan, there have been calls echoed in the local media in Taiwan for President Ma Ying-jeou to conduct stiffer political actions against the move, such as freezing the hiring of Filipino workers. Recent developments have shown that such is the case even if there is no formal announcement yet. What mechanism has the Philippine put in place to curb the possible adverse impacts to their nationals of the action they took on the case of the 14 Taiwanese. Obviously none," Calimutan said.

"Is the current Aquino administration prepared to take on the thousands of OFWs who may find themselves without jobs if Taiwan really freezes the hiring of OFW?" her statement added.

Philippine government statistics indicated that Taiwan is one of the top 10 destination countries of OFWs. It placed 7th in 2009 despite a 12 percent drop in hiring of foreign workers in Taiwan due mainly to the impact of the global economic crisis.

Calimutan also said Filipinos already in Taiwan may also be vulnerable to more backlash as the disappointment of the people there may spread.

He said it is not the first time that OFWs are put on the line due to a misplaced government decision, citing the aftermath of last year's Manila hostage crisis where eight Hong Kong nationals were killed when the police bungled a rescue operation.

Lack of political savvy

For its part, Migrante International criticized the Aquino administration's "lack of political savvy and indiscretion that has caused the diplomatic row with Taiwan."

"We advise our officials to please always, always think first of how their moves will affect Filipino nationals. Our OFWs are the ones who are bearing the brunt of their blunders and foul-ups," said Garry Martinez, the group's international coordinator.

Martinez added that OFWs in Taiwan have already conveyed their fear of a public backlash especially since the incident is presently a hot topic in local television talk shows.

"They are concerned because they say that there are insinuations from the Taiwanese public calling on their government stop the deployment of Filipinos," he said.

This is highly possible since Taiwan had already imposed such a freeze after the Philippine government failed to give proper diplomatic recognition to Taiwan's Head of the Council of Labor Affairs when he visited some time ago.

"We are also very much concerned of the possible negative effects of this faux pas on our OFWs who are already there. The Aquino government should immediately do damage control," Martinez said.

The Taiwanese government, through Taipei's de facto ambassador to Manila Donald Lee, has said that because of the diplomatic insult, the rights and well-being of some 80,000 OFWs in Taiwan might be affected.

Taiwan's foreign ministry said diplomatic representative in Manila would be recalled this week, even as it also announced a tightening of the screening applications for prospective OFWs while the existing visa-free treatment accorded to Filipinos traveling to Taiwan will be called off. (Jill Beltran/AH/AMN/FP/AP/PNA/Sunnex)

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