Philippine envoys face sack over 'rogue' offer to Taipei

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 1:07pm

Two Philippine envoys face dismissal after going "rogue" and bungling Manila's response to this month's shooting of Taiwanese fishermen by Philippine coastguards, sources say.

The pair tried to negotiate a deal with their Taiwanese counterparts in which the Philippine government would apologise for the May 9 incident in which one fisherman died. But the offer backfired and spiralled into a major diplomatic incident when Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou rejected it and imposed economic penalties.

A source close to Manila's internal discussions on the issue said the envoys had exceeded their authority when they initially offered Taiwan's foreign minister, David Lin, talks on a fisheries agreement. Such an offer had never been approved by their bosses in Manila, the source said, and embarrassingly had to be withdrawn in the deal ultimately presented to Ma.

The flip-flop, and the impression of reneging on the offer, outraged the Taiwanese.

"What they [initially] delivered [to the Taiwanese authorities] was not the agreed response," said one of the Philippine sources. The source was referring to Amadeo Perez Jnr, chairman and chief executive of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), and Antonio Basilio, managing director and resident representative of MECO Taiwan.

The source said both are about to lose their quasi-diplomatic jobs, although "they may not know it yet".

The first rule of proper relations is that officials can be relied on to uphold their principals' position and not go rogue

"The first rule of proper relations is that officials can be relied on to uphold their principals' position and not go rogue," the source added.

As proof of what Taiwan's foreign ministry called Manila's "dishonest" and "capricious" ways, it released four different versions of the offer all sent by MECO to Lin on May 14. The first letter offered to create a Filipino "inter-agency panel" to prevent future incidents, and to convene a meeting with a similar Taiwanese body to negotiate on fisheries.

But by the fourth letter the offer had been watered down, omitting the inter-agency panel and simply suggesting that "relevant agencies" try to convene with their counterparts. That final offer was rejected by Ma.

President Aquino's deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said on Monday that only the fourth letter - which also told Taipei that Manila had already started its own probe into the event - was authorised for release by Aquino.

According to The Manila Times, David Chien of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) said the offer Basilio ultimately delivered to Lin was "completely different" from the what had been worked out between MECO and TECO.

A senior diplomat said the first three letters seemed to be drafts.

Basilio yesterday defended his actions and said the drafts reflected a "sincere effort" by himself and the Foreign Minister to reach an agreement under severe time constraints.

He added: "Releasing these earlier versions is a breach of protocol and courtesy".