Philippine coast guards liable in Taiwan fisherman's death

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has recommended the filing of criminal charges against the Filipino coast guards involved in the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman in northern Philippine waters last month, the Inquirer learned on Tuesday.

A source, who has knowledge of the investigation of the incident but asked not to be identified because he has no authority to speak on the matter, declined to say whether murder or homicide charges had been recommended.

But the source said there was a debate on whether to bring murder charges against the coast guards, as "superior strength" was used "against an unarmed civilian", or homicide, as the shooting death of fisherman Hung Shih-chen was "not premeditated".

The source said the NBI report on the investigation of Hung's death had been submitted to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

"It is a thin report, because the annexes have yet to be forwarded to [Secretary De Lima]," the source said.

The report, according to the source, includes the identities of the coast guards who fired their rifles at Hung's fishing boat in waters off Balintang Island on May 9.

It also contains the identity of the coast guard who fired the bullet that killed Hung, the source said.

The shooter was identified through a cross-match between the slug recovered from Hung's body during autopsy and the signature of the coast guard's M14 rifle.

The shooting happened in Philippine waters, as the Philippine Coast Guard stated in its report on the incident submitted to the NBI, the source said.

The source said the incident took place within 79.2 kilometres of Philippine territory and 316.8 km from Taiwanese territory.

No attempt to ram

But the Coast Guard's claim that the fishing boat Guan Ta Hsin 28 tried to ram the coastal patrol vessel MCS-3001 was disproved, the source said.

The Coast Guard claimed that the fishing boat's hostile move was the reason for its officers' firing at the vessel, aiming for the engine to make it stop.

But the NBI report says the results of the ballistic tests and trajectory examination on the fishing boat showed the shooters did not know where the engine was, the source said.

Hung's family has brought murder charges against the Philippine Coast Guard in Pingtung County District Attorney's Office in southern Taiwan and with the NBI team of investigators who travelled there last month for the Philippine probe of Hung's death.

The shooting death of the fisherman sparked a major diplomatic row between Taiwan and the Philippines.

Taiwan demanded an official apology from the Philippine government, compensation for Hung's family and punishment for the shooters.

To pressure the Philippines into complying, Taiwan froze new jobs in Taiwan for Filipino migrant workers and suspended tourist travel to the Philippines and trade and cultural exchanges between the two countries.

President Aquino apologised for the shooting death of Hung, but Taiwan rejected his apology because of his description of the killing as "unintended" and an "unfortunate loss of life."

Cooperate

The two countries, however, agreed to cooperate in the investigation of Hung's death.

A team of Taiwanese investigators travelled to Manila to examine the coast guards' weapons, interview them, and see their own video of the chase between their vessel and Hung's fishing boat.

An NBI team travelled to Taiwan, examined Hung's boat, interviewed its crew, and studied the Taiwanese coroner's autopsy report.

The two teams agreed to release their findings separately.

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