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MECO: Charge PCG men

‘So much at stake if  we fail to prosecute’ The head of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office said Wednesday that criminal charges  must be filed   against the coastguards involved in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman on May 9 or the Philippines will face an economic fallout. And its failure to do so as recommended by the NBI could be the breaking point in Philippine-Taiwan relations, MECO Chairman Amadeo Perez said. He said the Taiwanese people would be in an uproar, and the 85,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan would be in danger of losing their jobs. “I have nothing against the Coast Guard,” Perez said in an interview over the ANC news channel. “Our problem is, so much is at stake in this issue, and I hope that the result of the [NBI] investigation would come out sooner so that this will pave the way for us to restore normal relations already with Taiwan.” Perez said the result of the investigation of the shooting of the Taiwanese fisherman, who was said to have been poaching in Philippine waters, was key to restoring the ties between Manila and Taipei. The National Bureau of Investigation has already recommended the filing of criminal charges against the Coast Guard personnel involved in the case, but President Benigno Aquino III must first approve its report. Taiwan has ordered a freeze on the hiring of Filipino workers, exhorted its citizens to avoid travel to the Philippines, and staged naval drills near Philippine waters as a result of the incident. Perez said the Philippine tourism industry had also been losing a lot of money, noting that the months of June to August were the peak months for Taiwanese tourists, “but they have canceled all chartered flights and only a handful were securing Philippine visas. Deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte initially begged off from commenting on Perez’s statement, saying she still had to contact him. She later replied: “I spoke to Chairman Perez and he said that he had expressed his private and personal opinion during the interview.” Asked if officials like Perez were allowed to express personal opinions on very sensitive subjects like the death of the Taiwanese fisherman, Valte texted a smiley in response. Rep. Simeon Datumanong on Wednesday said Perez’s statement only showed that the NBI’s findings were intended to appease Taiwan. Rep. Sherwin Tugna said the filing of criminal charges against the coastguards should be based on evidence and not on the fear of reprisals from Taiwan. Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo supported Perez and said it appeared that there was enough evidence against the coastguards. Coast Guard chief information officer Cdr. Armand Balilo said they were prepared to defend their men once the government filed a criminal case against them. He said University of the Philippines law and maritime affairs professor Jay Batongbacal and at least three other lawyers from at the same school were ready to defend the accused coastguards for free. The coastguards claim that they fired at the Taiwanese fishing vessel to stop it from ramming them. Their shots resulted in the death of 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih Cheng. “Right now we’re still waiting, but there are four lawyers from UP who have volunteered their services should the [NBI] findings be adverse to the Coast Guard,” Balilo said. “I’m still coordinating with Attorney Batongbacal. I received a text last Monday. He will provide us pro bono services.” Last week, Batongbacal visited the Coast Guard headquarters in Port Area, Manila, and said the country’s law enforcement would be completely ineffective and it would send a wrong signal once a case was filed against the accused who were only doing their duty. “The incident clearly arises out of law enforcement,” Batongbacal said. He said the government must consider that the Taiwanese vessel was committing an illegal act of poaching and it was not flying its flag. “When a vessel at sea is not flying its flag, it is doing so with the intention of not abiding by any law, not abiding by the jurisdiction of any coastal state,” Batongbacal said. “It could be an act of piracy, smuggling when you don’t fly your flag. The PCG was well within its mandate.” With Joyce Pangco Pañares and Maricel V. Cruz
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