Philippine workers urge Manila to respond to Taiwan's demands

Taipei, May 12 (CNA) Philippine workers in Taiwan on Sunday launched a petition that called on their government to respond immediately to Taiwan's demands over the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman at sea. Philippine nationals working in different parts of Taiwan gathered in Taipei and handed out flyers on Taiwan's threat to suspend the processing of applications by Filipinos seeking employment in the country, if Manila fails to meet its demands by midnight Tuesday. In addition to handing out the flyers to other Filipinos in Taiwan, the group also launched a petition urging the Philippine government to take "immediate action," said Norman Pinson, a 25-year-old Filipino worker at a factory in the northern county of Taoyuan. The group members told CNA they will later take the 143 signatures they have collected to the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, which represents the Philippines' interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties. The May 9 incident involving a Philippine patrol boat that opened fire on a Taiwanese fishing boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, has been widely reported in the local media, but the group members said they did not know much about the incident until Sunday morning. Because of work, most of them do not have time to keep abreast of the latest news, they said. They were briefed on the incident and follow-up issues during their regular Sunday gathering at the office of Taiwan International Workers' Association in Taipei, they said. They launched the campaign after hearing about the incident and its possible implications. Meanwhile, the group of Philippine nationals said they "are deeply saddened" by the death of the Taiwanese fisherman. The Philippine government vessel should not have opened fire on the fishing boat, they said. Asked about the Taiwan government's threat to suspend new job applications, they described it as "unfair" and said they "hope the rights of immigrant workers will not be affected." Freezing the import of Philippine labor will not affect only applicants, but also Filipino workers already in Taiwan as they will be subject to hostility, they said. Annie Evangelista, 34, told CNA she is worried that she will lose her job because of the conflict between the Philippines and Taiwan, and that is something she cannot afford. "We are here because of our family. We need money. We need to send money to our family," said Evangelista, who has worked in Taiwan for over four years. "We pray, hoping that (the case) may be solved within 72 hours," said Evangelista, adding that many of her compatriots prayed in church Sunday for the dispute to be resolved peacefully. Pareng Jomar, who learned about the dispute on Sunday, also said he is worried about the status of Filipino workers in Taiwan and hopes the details of the incident will be revealed soon. "If it is proven that it's the Philippine coast guard's fault and the Philippine government's fault, we must face reality. We must take action," said Pareng Jomar, who has been employed in Taiwan as a factory worker for 17 months. Betty Chen, an official with the Taiwan International Workers' Association, called on the Taiwanese government not to freeze the import of Philippine workers. "The workers have become bargaining chips and it's not fair," she said, adding that many of the Philippine employees in Taiwan are also fishermen and from low income families. On the question of what the Taiwan government should do, Chen said her group has not yet come up with an alternative idea, but thinks the rights of disadvantaged migrant workers should not be sacrificed. Taiwan is asking the Philippines to issue a formal apology, compensate the victim's family for their loss, investigate the incident and punish the perpetrators, and open fishery agreement talks with Taiwan as soon as possible. If Manila does not issue an appropriate response by midnight Tuesday, the Taiwan government said it will suspend the importation of Filipino labor, recall its representative to the Philippines and request that the Philippines' representative to Taiwan return to Manila. A 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng, was killed when a joint patrol of the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources opened fire on the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 in an overlapping economic zone of Taiwan and the Philippines. (By Elaine Hou and Christie Chen)