Philippines studying draft fisheries pact with Taiwan

MANILA - The Philippines said it is studying a draft fisheries agreement with Taiwan as tensions in rich border fishing grounds re-emerged, two years after the Filipino coast guard shot dead a Taiwanese fisherman.

While the proposed deal will not define borders, it will set protocols on the arrest and detention of fishermen, Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said yesterday.

"The mechanism will provide guidelines for incidents at sea," said Mr Jose at a news conference. "It will not be an agreement on maritime boundary delimitations."

The draft agreement was prepared by the trade representatives of the two parties, which have no formal diplomatic relations.

Manila recognises Taipei's rival Beijing, which considers Taiwan its province.

Fisheries-related scrapes between the two Asian neighbours have hotted up in recent months.

A Philippine coast guard ship attempted to arrest a Taiwanese fishing vessel off the Batan island group last month but the Taiwan coast guard intervened, resulting in a four-hour stand-off.

Manila broadcaster ABS-CBN yesterday aired footage of a June 6 stand-off between Philippine and Taiwanese coast guard ships, which ended with the Taiwanese vessels turning back after a tense exchange of radio messages.

These incidents recall the 2013 fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine authorities in the same area.

The Philippine authorities filed homicide charges against eight of their coast guard men over the death of the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman in May 2013. A local court is hearing the case.

The coast guard men said they opened fire after the fishing vessel tried to ram them but Taiwan called the shooting "cold-blooded" murder and imposed economic sanctions on Manila.

Mr Jose acknowledged a "huge overlapping" of the exclusive economic zones around the Philippines' northern waters and the waters off Taiwan's southern end.

President Benigno Aquino's office is reviewing the proposed fishing agreement and will decide within the year whether or not to sign it, Mr Jose said.

"With this agreement, we hope to talk about sea incidents in an easier manner," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Philippines studying draft fisheries pact with Taiwan'. Print Edition | Subscribe