Former envoy Lauro Baja tells Taiwan to 'remember who its friends are'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 May, 2013, 4:49am

A former top Philippines diplomat has urged Taiwan to "remember who its friends are", in comments that appear to suggest Taiwan is ungrateful for Manila's longstanding support for its political autonomy.

"Taiwan should remember we were the first ones to have these informal relations with them and we have substantial relations with them in terms of trade," said Lauro Baja, the former Philippines ambassador to the United Nations.

Baja said he decided to speak out as a citizen because of what he perceived was Taiwan's "overreaction" to the death of one of its fishermen on May 9 when a Philippines coastguard vessel fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat that Manila said was inside Philippine territory.

Baja said that, contrary to Taipei's claims that the incident occurred in disputed territory, Taiwan had long recognised the area as a part of Philippine waters.

"If you recall, during the time of [President] Cory Aquino, there was some sort of corridor established for Taiwanese fishermen" to pass through that area, he said. But Baja, once foreign affairs undersecretary for policy, did not know the status of that agreement because "it came from Malacanang Palace and did not pass through the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs]".

"With their entity being a province of China, giving sanctions and refusing to receive the representative of the president, what is that? Sometimes I feel we have these things coming to us because of our very timid diplomacy," Baja said.

Rex Robles, a retired Philippine Navy commodore and security consultant, also pointed to the corridor agreement as proof that Taiwan recognises Philippine sovereignty over that area.

"I think everyone has forgotten about the safety corridor which Cory Aquino signed during her term. It allowed Taiwanese fishermen to pass through Philippine waters on their way to the Pacific Ocean," he said.

Robles said if Taiwan believed the area was theirs, in the first place, "why will they sign that MOU [Memorandum of Understanding]?"

Robles said he was "puzzled over the Taiwanese government's overreaction" and called for a thorough probe.

Outrage over Taiwan's Manila bashing and reported incidents of violence against Filipinos in Taipei spilled over yesterday to the social media.

Rafael Alunan, a businessman and former cabinet minister, wrote on Facebook: "China will take over Taiwan one of these days, and I will not shed a tear. Even without that formal takeover, they seem to be in bed together applying the same tactics against us and Japan in our respective territories."

International law expert Harry Roque noted that Taiwan has no legal leg to demand a fishing agreement with Manila because "Taiwan is not an independent state and should not expect to be treated as such".