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International relations

Philippine drug fugitive found dead after deportation from Taiwan

Rights advocates see double standard on island that shelters Hong Kong activists

Inmates are rounded up in the courtyard of Manila City Jail as officials search the premises for drugs and other illegal paraphernalias in this November 2018 photo.   © Getty Images

TAIPEI -- Taiwan was faced with a decision in 2018 when it detained former Filipino city councilor Ricardo "Ardot" Parojinog, who fled there after being accused of drug crimes in the Philippines and three of his siblings and 13 others were killed in a police raid.

Over the objections of rights advocates, Taiwan decided to deport Parojinog that July. Last year, he told a court he feared for his life after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to "wipe out" his family.

On Sept. 4, hours before a scheduled court appearance, Parojinog was found dead in his jail cell.

The Philippine National Police said Parojinog died of cardiac arrest, although the country's justice department said Sunday that investigators will "fact-check" his state of health.

On Sunday, his sister was found dead in government custody; a jail nurse said she died of "cardiac shock." Her death will also be investigated.

Although Taiwan has granted refuge to a growing number of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters fleeing the city-state's national security law, the island has no formal refugee law, and numerous asylum-seekers from other countries have been deported without seeing a judge or being informed of their rights.

Parojinog's deportation was touted by Angelito Banayo, the top Philippine representative in Taipei, as a success story of Taiwan's New Southbound Policy, a major initiative of President Tsai Ing-wen to deepen ties with South and Southeast Asian states and reduce Taiwan's dependence on China.

Banayo told Nikkei Asian Review he appreciated Taiwan's decision to deport Parojinog and dismissed domestic and international criticism of the "so-called extrajudicial killings" of drug offenders.

"It's not for Taiwan to judge how a wanted criminal in the Philippines is treated within the Philippine justice system," he said. "[Taiwan's] cooperation on what they perceive to be a legitimate policy of the Philippine government to fight high crimes, like drug trafficking, is something that we appreciate on their part."

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is pushing the island's New Southbound Policy to deepen ties with South and Southeast Asian states and reduce Taiwan's dependence on China.

Parojinog had fled to Taiwan after three siblings, including Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Jr., and 13 others were killed in a July 2017 police raid that was condemned by opposition politicians and international rights groups. In 2018, Duterte threatened surviving members of the Parojinog family, vowing to "finish off all of you." Earlier that year, the family's lawyer was shot dead by unidentified gunmen, as was a judge involved in Parojinog's case.

Last year, Parojinog was denied a protective court order in the Philippines after accusing the national police of threatening his life and trying to "wipe out" his entire family.

Countries including the U.S. have refused to deport Filipinos accused of drug crimes. In 2017, a California judge blocked the deportation of two Filipinos who had served jail time for drug offenses after their lawyer argued they had claims for protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, as they could be added to government "kill lists" in the Philippines.

In Taiwan, however, Parojinog was never given that chance. The former councilor was detained in May 2018 by Taiwanese investigators, acting on a tip from Philippine police, after hiding from authorities for 10 months in southern Pingtung County. He was deported two months later despite objections from international rights advocates and his appearance on a government list of politicians alleged to be involved in the drug trade, many of whom have become victims of extrajudicial killings.

Parojinog asked Pingtung district prosecutors to be represented by a lawyer of his choice after he was detained in Taiwan, but this request was denied by the court, according to Banayo.

It is unknown whether Parojinog attempted to fight his deportation or request asylum. Banayo and his office said they were not in contact with Parojinog prior to his deportation.

Taiwan, which is not a United Nations member, is not a signatory to the Convention Against Torture. The absence of a formal asylum process leaves people facing persecution in their home countries with "no clear procedure to seek help," said Chiu E-ling, executive director of Amnesty International Taiwan.

Last year, three Kurdish Syrians were deported after entering Taiwan using fake passports, even though one attempted to file an asylum case before being sent back. Other refugees have been unable to formalize their stays in Taiwan, including a Ugandan fleeing her country's draconian anti-homosexuality laws and several Turks whose passports were canceled by their government.

The precedent set by Parojinog's case also leaves around 160,000 Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan at risk of deportation to the Philippines if they are convicted of drug crimes.

Taiwan's legislature proposed a refugee law in 2016, but it stalled after passing the first of three required floor readings.

The Taiwanese government has since said it will process asylum claims from Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and opened an office in July to do so. But this gesture of goodwill has excluded those of other nationalities who face persecution, said Andrea Giorgetta, Asia director for the International Federation for Human Rights.

"It's curious how President Tsai's administration was vehemently critical of the extradition law proposed by the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government but ... did not seem to have a problem with the deportation of a Filipino national to his home country, where he was likely to face threats to his physical integrity and violations of his fundamental rights," Giorgetta said.

Parojinog was deported shortly after the Philippines repatriated Li O-hsien, a Taiwanese fugitive wanted in connection with a 2009 drug case. In September 2018, a man accused of murder in New Taipei City was deported by the Philippines to Taiwan.

Banayo, the Philippine representative, thanked Taiwan at the time for deporting Parojinog and touted the potential of Taiwan's New Southbound Policy in an interview with Taiwan's state-backed Central News Agency.

Taiwanese officials have attempted to cast the policy as an alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative, which has drawn extensive criticism due to environmental concerns and human rights violations associated with the program.

The absence of human rights safeguards, Giorgetta said, makes it difficult for Taiwan to draw such a distinction and renders the policy "problematic not only from a human rights perspective, but also from a business standpoint."

Banayo said that while Taiwan and the Philippines "do have shared values of human rights, freedom, democracy and all that, we also have to consider the gravity of the offense."

"The U.S. kidnapped [Panama's Manuel] Noriega -- he was a head of state, for that matter," he said. "Why should there be a standard for Noriega and a standard for a Mindanao city councilor?"

The Philippines, Banayo said, is used to criticism of extrajudicial drug-related killings from the United Nations and the Western democracies that Taipei has tried to court in its own diplomatic outreach efforts.

"Those are their standards," he said. "But as a sovereign country, our standards are different. We do not have to live by Western standards when it comes to crimes, especially drugs."

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