By Jarius Bondoc
President Benigno Aquino III has apologized for the Philippine Coast Guard’s killing last week of a Taiwanese fisherman. It was as sincere as can be, given the circumstances. His government was still investigating how exactly the shooting had happened. But even as the coast guards invoked self-defense against a belligerent poaching vessel, it was apparent that they had erred. They supposedly were aiming for the Taiwanese boat’s engine to prevent it from ramming theirs, but in the process hit Hung Shih-cheng, 65. For that, Aquino sent the director of the Taipei-based Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) to convey his and the Filipino people’s apology and condolences to the Hung family and the Taiwanese people. He already was treading on thin diplomatic ice as Beijing, so adamant about a one-China stance, jealously frowns on any official recognition of provincial Taiwan’s sovereignty. Still Aquino followed up with a formal letter, hand-carried by his personal envoy, the MECO chairman in Manila, with the same message.
Yet Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou rejected the contrition as “flippant.” His government recalled its de facto envoy to Manila, severed ongoing trade and cultural activities, and took it out on Filipino guest workers and travel agents. It even called out provocative naval exercises at the sea border.
All this happened as the Taiwanese press, divided between pro- and anti-Beijing, united in editorials calling Aquino insincere. From whatever side they stood, they took Manila’s observance of one-China as excuse for inadequate response. Ma, for months now chastened by a low 14 percent approval rating, saw a chance to rise by riding the wave of outrage. He set off increasingly jingoistic measures, including potential harassment of 87,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan. He had his factotums in Taipei and in Washington accusing the Philippine Coast Guard of “murder.” He ranted that Aquino apologize to him no less. More....