MANILA, February 10, 2011 (AFP) – The Philippines said Thursday it deported 14 alleged Taiwanese criminals to China to protect its national interests.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda also rejected a demand by Taiwan’s representative to Manila for the government to apologize, insisting that authorities acted based on evidence gathered against the group.

“It is based on our national interest to do so,” Lacierda told reporters when asked why the 14 were sent to China instead of Taiwan.

“These Taiwanese nationals are part of an international crime ring so on that basis and based on the evidence that was presented… we did what was proper to do so.

“The evidence is in China, the crime was committed in China, so it was in our best national interest to deport them to China.”

Taiwan has expressed fury over last week’s deportation of the 14 to the mainland, saying they should have been sent back to face justice on the self-ruled island.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan’s top official in Manila, Donald Lee, on Wednesday accused the Philippine government of bowing to pressure from China, while labeling the deportations “inhumane”.

In response to the deportations, the Taiwanese government this week toughened screening procedures for Filipinos wanting to work on the island and warned they may even be banned.

President Benigno Aquino said Thursday he may send an envoy to Taiwan to explain his government’s actions.

Meanwhile, Taipei reiterated a call for China to hand the 14 over.

“We urge the mainland side to return the persons to Taiwan soon to stand trial to enhance positive interactions between the two sides,” said the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan’s top China policy-making body.

The council promised that the suspects would be “severely punished.”

The Philippine lawyer for the 14 Taiwanese, Maria Asuncion Cabrera, on Thursday insisted the government had broken international law by sending them to China.

“They were unlawfully and arbitrarily arrested and denied due process,” Cabrera told AFP.

“We presented their original passports which showed their point of origin was Taipei, and under the principle of nationality in international law, they should have been sent back to Taiwan.”

The 14 Taiwanese were arrested in the Philippines, along with 10 Chinese nationals, over an alleged scam to swindle mainland Chinese out of $20 million.