Friday, 11 February 2011

OFWs get it, again

THE BUSINESS MIRROR
EDITORIAL
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/opinion/7320-ofws-get-it-again

A FINE royal mess, indeed. This best describes the current imbroglio sparked by the Philippine government’s hasty deportation, over Taipei’s objections, of 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to Beijing to face trial, along with 10 others, for involvement in an international scam.

As Thursday’s main story in this paper said, the fallout continues, even after the recall by Taipei of its special representative (or de facto ambassador) to Manila, Donald Lee. The Taiwanese authorities have imposed a virtual hiring freeze on Filipino workers by extending from just 12 days to four months the processing for any new hires; signaled a tighter watch on the nearly 80,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan, and sent word that investments are being reviewed.

So what? Some quarters may ask; the Taiwanese suspects are part of a global ring that China wants to try and punish, along with 10 mainland Chinese, so let justice take its course. After all, Manila observes a “One China” policy. Yet the reality on the ground is that, despite this policy, the Philippines and Taiwan have observed robust economic and cultural ties for many decades, and the benefits to both sides have been substantial. It’s not as if such goodwill, anchored on years of mutual gain, can be so quickly brushed aside for geopolitics.

What complicates the situation, though, are the unfortunate details that indicate Manila rushed—or was pressured into rushing action by aggressive Beijing officials—in disposing of the Taiwanese suspects, even though it could have, or should have, waited awhile.

The latest complicating detail surfaced on Thursday, when the Court of Appeals demanded an explanation from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) for the hasty deportation, despite the earlier issuance of a writ of habeas corpus directing the BI to produce six of the 14 Taiwanese before it. Instead of complying with the writ, it now appears Philippine authorities hastily deported the Taiwanese, in a chartered flight from the mainland that flew in and bundled them off on February 2.

There is also the problem with supposedly confusing documentation of the suspects. Malacañang officials, citing the BI, earlier said the 14 suspects kept saying they were from Taiwan, not the mainland, but could not produce documents to that effect. Yet the de facto embassy here, the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (Teco), said documentation was available and, at the very least, Manila should have believed its own people at the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), the Teco’s counterpart.

Reference was made to a cross-straits agreement between Taipei and Beijing, which Philippine officials said made it incumbent upon the two Chinese sides to settle the matter between themselves, without dragging Manila. Yet by its hasty act of deportation, Manila put itself in a position where it virtually decided the matter in Beijing’s favor, on the basis of its interpretation of the One-China policy, and put itself at the receiving end of Taipei’s anger. Why couldn’t have Philippine authorities compelled the two sides to settle the tug-of-war over the suspects first, and imposed a deadline for them to do so—or it would release the suspects to their lawyer, and no one will have a case. This last gambit was floated by former Makati Congressman Teodoro Locsin Jr. in dwIZ’s top-rated Karambola morning show on Thursday, after it surfaced that in a previous case involving Chinese suspects, the latter were released on recognizance to their Filipino lawyer, and later vanished.

Yes, some Executive and congressional officials may prefer to talk tough now and say they can’t be threatened by Taiwan, but that’s easier said than done. After ignoring Beijing’s and Hong Kong’s sensibilities at the height of the August 23 hostage crisis that killed eight Hong Kong tourists, Philippine officials have swung to the other extreme of the pendulum and, in abject obeisance to the mainland, now allowed itself to be stampeded into a move that not only alienated a long-time ally, but also flouted a Philippine court’s order. As antihuman-trafficking activist Susan “Toots” Ople put it, Filipino officials could have minimized the damage by doing more quietly and talking less.

The irony of it all: as in the bus- hostage crisis in August last year, the overseas Filipino workers—whether in Hong Kong or Taiwan—are paying the price for official bungling. What a mess.

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