Manila promises impartial probe into fishing boat tragedy

Manila, May 12 (CNA) Philippines authorities offered their "deepest sympathies and condolences" Sunday to the family of a Taiwanese fisherman who was killed in a shooting incident involving a Philippines patrol boat, and vowed to conduct an "impartial, transparent and expeditious" investigation into the tragedy. Less than 24 hours after Taiwan issued an ultimatum to the Philippines, a deputy spokesperson at the Philippines' Presidential Office issued a statement on the incident that occurred May 9 in waters south of Taiwan. "As the Philippine Coast Guard has stated, we express our heartfelt sorrow on the unfortunate situation that occurred during one of the anti-illegal fishing patrols conducted by a Philippine fishery law enforcement vessel (MCS 3001) within the maritime jurisdiction (waters off the Batanes group of islands) of the Philippines on the morning of May 9, 2013, which tragically resulted in the death of a fisherman from one of the fishing vessels reportedly poaching in the area," Abigail F. Valte said in the statement. "We extend our sincere and deepest sympathies and condolences to the bereaved family of the victim" -- a 65-year-old fisherman of Pingtung, southern Taiwan, Valte said. The spokesperson said an investigation has begun with the arrival of the commander of the MCS 3001. The commander and crew of the vessel have been relieved of their duties, she said. "The Philippine Coast Guard, together with other agencies, assures everyone that this investigation will be conducted in an impartial, transparent and expeditious manner," Valte added. The Philippines will look into ways of preventing similar incidents in the future, she said. Antonio Basilio, head of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan that represents the Philippines interests in Taiwan in the absence of official ties between the two countries, has extended condolences and offered his apologies to the fisherman's family in person, Valte noted. Taiwan's Presidential Office demanded late Saturday that the Philippines issue a formal apology, compensate the victim's family for their loss, investigate the incident and punish the perpetrators, and start fishery agreement talks with Taiwan as soon as possible. If the Philippines fails to respond appropriately by midnight Tuesday, Taiwan will suspend importation of Philippine labor, recall its representative in Manila, and ask the Philippine envoy in Taiwan to return to his home country, the Presidential Office said. (By Emerson Lim and S.C. Chang)