After forces on a Philippine government vessel shot dead an unarmed Taiwanese fisherman with what appears to have been a machine gun, the world’s media sold the story as if it was directly related to a territorial row. But those who know the Philippines might well have a very different take.
More plausible than the idea of government direction to the agents is that the Taiwanese were chased and shot at because they did not want to pay extortion money to corrupt Philippine law enforcement agencies.
Walk into a given Philippine karaoke bar or a pool hall, and there’s a chance you’ll see drunk policemen or soldiers with guns on the table.
Walk around in Manila as a foreigner, whether you are Western, Chinese or Korean, and you may well be framed by police.
Cruising the city on the lookout for prey in hired taxis but in police uniforms, they jump on you, press a package of drugs into your hand and take you straight to an ATM.
There, they fleece you and then let you go.
And, as a rule of thumb, the more policemen involved and the higher the rank, the more you cough up. Otherwise your next stop will be a rat-invested Philippine jail.
In the naval realm, it’s not the “crocodiles,” as the Manila police force is commonly referred to by the locals, but the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources who are on the lookout for victims around the clock.
And the easiest targets at sea are the Taiwanese. They quickly pay up very large fines to avoid arbitrary arrest because they know all too well that the more Philippine officials there are catching wind of the story, the higher will the price be to get back home.
The racketeers in uniform want to keep the lion’s part of the cake. That means while their direct superiors inevitably do get their hands on hush-money, the higher echelons are generally kept as clueless as possible.
It will not change a thing if Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou now says that he wants to expel the Philippine representative to Taipei, withdraw his own representative to Manila, or stop the import of Philippine workers, bananas or whatever.
The only option for Taiwan is to increase its presence dramatically in the waters near the Philippines to deprive the gunmen of their racket. The mainland could lend the Taiwanese a helping hand by making such presence more felt.