x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Taiwan may bar Filipino expat workers in deportation row

Taiwan angry after 14 Taiwanese arrested by Philippine authorities in December over alleged credit card fraud were deported to China last week.

MANILA // Taiwan today accused the Philippines of bowing to pressure from Beijing over the "inhumane" deportation of alleged Taiwanese criminals to China, and warned of possible retaliatory action against the tens of thousands of Filipino workers in the island.

The 14 Taiwanese, along with 10 Chinese nationals, were arrested by Philippine authorities in December over alleged credit card fraud, and all were deported to China last week.

Donald Lee, head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, which represents the island's interests in the Philippines, said authorities ignored his request for the suspected fraudsters to be returned to Taiwan.

"Furthermore, no prior notification of deportation was given to my office, and the deportation itself proceeded secretly at midnight, which shows no due respect to the government of Taiwan," Mr Lee told reporters.

"Succumbing to the pressure from the People's Republic of China, this deportation is very inhumane, unfair and null and void."

He said the move greatly impaired relations with the Philippines, and warned Taiwanese authorities could retaliate against the tens of thousands of Filipino workers in the island.

"How can the Philippine government expect Taiwan to provide the deserved legal rights and protection to the 80,000 OFWs [Filipino workers] in Taiwan?" Mr Lee said.

Taiwan has already increased the screening period for Filipino people trying to enter the island to work, and threatened to bar them from entry completely.

Mr Lee confirmed that as part of the island's protest, he would temporarily head back to Taipei.

"I will be recalled. I am leaving within this week," he said.

However the Philippine presidential spokesman, Abigail Valte, said that Manila would not back down on the issue.

"We stand by what happened. We stand by the explanation that we have already given," she told reporters.

Ms Valte said that the government would leave it up to its office in Taiwan to deal with any sanctions that might be imposed over the incident.

Officials from the Chinese embassy in Manila were not immediately available for comment.

Mr Lee's comments were the second time in recent months that the Philippine government has been accused of bowing to pressure from China, which is increasingly flexing its political and economic muscle in Asia.

In December, President Benigno Aquino's government was severely criticised for skipping the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway honouring the Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao.

After initially saying Manila's envoy to Oslo could not attend because of a scheduling conflict, Mr Aquino said the move was meant to encourage China to spare five Filipinos on death row there for drug trafficking.

The Nobel events also took place in the same week the Philippines secured military hardware supplies from China.

China and Taiwan split at the end of a civil war in 1949.

Like most countries, the Philippines recognises only the Beijing government, although it maintains economic and cultural ties with Taiwan.