Manila: Philippines President Benigno Aquino called for cool heads on Monday amid an escalating dispute with Taiwan over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in a confrontation with the Filipino coastguard.
Aquino said Manila’s de facto embassy in Taiwan was in talks with the country’s foreign ministry officials and had assured them an investigation was being carried out into last week’s incident.
“I think it is in the interest of both parties to proceed in a calm basis,” Aquino said. “We are proceeding in that manner.”
The Philippine coastguard admitted on Friday to shooting at one of four Taiwanese fishing vessels that it said had strayed into the country’s waters. A 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman died in the confrontation.
Aquino declined to comment on demands by Taiwan at the weekend for his government to apologise for the shooting and pay compensation to the victim’s family, or face a freeze of hiring on the island of Filipinos.
There are about 87,000 Philippine domestic helpers and other workers in Taiwan who send home hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Taiwan also sent four coastguard and naval vessels on the weekend to protect its fishermen in waters near the Philippines.
The Philippine government said on Sunday that Antonio Basilio, head of the Philippines’ de facto embassy in Taiwan, had visited the family of the fisherman and “extended condolences and apologies”.
Aquino said he did not want to comment further, preferring to let diplomats handle the dispute.
“If we comment on that [at the presidential] level, we guarantee the issue will escalate,” Aquino said.
The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions around the region over rival claims to the nearby South China Sea.
China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims to parts of the sea.
Taiwan has ruled itself since 1949, but China still considers the island part of its territory. The Philippines, like most countries, officially recognises China’s rule over Taiwan but maintains trade ties with the island.