Philippines backs down on demand for Taiwan to deport worker

Controversy over domestic helper sparked anger in Taipei after Duterte's spokesman said Taiwan was part of China.

    As of 2019, there were an estimated 154,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan, representing over a fifth of the migrant workers on the island [File: Chiang Ying-ying/AP]
    As of 2019, there were an estimated 154,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan, representing over a fifth of the migrant workers on the island [File: Chiang Ying-ying/AP]

    The Philippines has backed down from its demand for Taiwan to deport a Filipina worker it accused of "cyber-libel" against President Rodrigo Duterte, saying it "respects" Taipei's decision.

    Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, issued the statement even as he sparked anger in Taiwan over his comment that China should have a say in the deportation, because the island "is part of China".

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    "Deportation is really a decision to be made by Taiwan authorities ... in the same way [that] we will enforce our law on all foreigners while they are under our jurisdiction," Roque told reporters on Wednesday.

    Taiwan's foreign ministry said the woman had not violated any law and would not be sent back to the Philippines.

    Stressing that it was a democratic country, Taiwan said all foreign workers were treated the same as Taiwan citizens and that "their rights are protected, including freedom of speech".

    The controversy first erupted when the top Philippine labour representative in Taipei sent a letter to Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs demanding the expulsion of a Filipina caregiver, accusing her of making "nasty and malevolent" posts on social media criticising Duterte's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Philippine media also reported that labour representatives had met the worker, her employer and broker to "enlighten" her, claiming her actions "amounted to a crime".

    Under a new emergency law in the Philippines, the dissemination of "fake news" during the national health emergency has been classified as criminal. But critics say that the government is using the law to silence legitimate criticism of the Duterte administration and his response to the crisis. 

    'One China' policy

    Taiwan's foreign ministry spokesman Joanne Ou said the Philippines should follow "legal procedures" through bilateral judicial assistance channels if it believed the worker in question had violated Philippine law.

    She said "other countries should respect our system" pointing out that "no agency has the right to exert pressure on this worker or her employer or labour broker".

    Although the Philippines observes the "one China" policy, it continues to maintain relations with Taiwan through the Manila Economic and Cultural Office.

    As of 2019, there were an estimated 154,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan, representing more than a fifth of the migrant workers on the island.

    Taipei was further angered, when Roque, the spokesman of Duterte earlier said Taiwan "forms part of China".

    In a separate statement, Taiwan's foreign ministry said the Philippines should "stop misrepresenting Taiwan as a part of China", adding they had instructed its representatives to lodge a protest about Roque's statement.

    "My country expresses strong dissatisfaction and high regret over Philippine government officials wrongly accusing Taiwan as part of China," Ou said.

    "China has never ruled Taiwan for one day, and only the popularly-elected Taiwan government can represent the country's 23 million people internationally."

    The latest incident follows another spat in February, when a senior Philippine health official said "Taiwan is part of China", as he announced the inclusion of Taiwan in a ban on arrivals from China to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

    In response, Manila said the travel ban was not linked to the "one China" policy, and the next day, the restrictions on arrivals from Taiwan were removed.

    Taiwan has been frequently cited as one of the most successful in containing the spread of the coronavirus.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies