Both still disagree on site of shooting
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday said Philippine laws will apply if charges are filed for the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman on May 9 as investigators from both sides wrapped up their parallel investigations with disagreements over where the incident took place.
“As far as we are concerned, we have jurisdiction based on our laws,” De Lima said as a team from the National Bureau of Investigation arrived from Taipei.
The leader of the team, Daniel Deganzo, said they and their counterparts disagreed over whether the fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng, 65, was shot dead by Coast Guard personnel in Philippine territorial waters.
De Lima said the question on the actual site of the shooting will be among the key issues to be resolved by NBI probers, along with factual findings based on evidence submitted by the Philippine Coast Guard and gathered from Taiwan, in a case conference set Saturday.
De Lima declined to discuss the findings of the NBI, including their conclusions about the 40 bullet holes they found in the Taiwanese fishing vessel.
“If the NBI finds any administrative or criminal liability, I would not want to preempt them. They will make appropriate recommendations and that may include criminal charges. But until then, it’s premature [to talk about it],” she said.
Taiwan has insisted that based on satellite records, their fishermen were in their exclusive economic zone, but the Philippine Coast Guard said the incident happened in the Balintang Channel in Batanes.
The bureau’s deputy director for regional operations services, Virgilio Mendez, said where the shooting took place was a crucial aspect of the investigation, but declined to say what the NBI’s findings would be.
He said more work needed to be done to evaluate the evidence that the NBI team brought back from Taiwan.
Asked to comment about a murder case filed by the Hung’s daughter in Taiwan, De Lima said the Philippines cannot prevent anyone from filing a case in Taiwan.
“We have nothing to do with that,” she said, noting that the Philippines does not have an extradition treaty with Taiwan.
De Lima also reiterated that the findings of the NBI would be independent from those of their Taiwanese counterparts. While both sides might share their findings, the reports would not be consolidated, she added.
The Taiwanese prosecutors and investigators left Manila Friday morning after a four-day probe. They were able to interview the 17 Coast Guards personnel involved in the incident and got a copy of the video taken by the PCG which showed a significant portion of the incident in the Balintang Channel.
They also inspected the MCS-3001 vessel involved in the shooting and completed their ballistic examination of the high-powered firearms used by the Coast Guard, including eight M-16 rifles, six M-14 rifles and a machine gun.
The NBI team led by Deganzo also returned to Manila in the afternoon.
Manila Economic and Cultural Office chair Amadeo Perez said the NBI team got everything they needed for their investigation, including video footage of the autopsy by Taiwanese medico-legal team on Hung.
Deganzo’s team was able to inspect slugs from the fishing vessel and found 40 bullet holes in the fishing vessel after inspection. They also interviewed the family of the fisherman and his companions during the incident, who reenacted their encounter with the Coast Guard.
In a news conference at the NBI headquarters at 11 p.m. on Thursday, also attended by members of the Taiwanese investigating team, NBI Director Caesar Nonnatus Rojas raised the possibility of some differences in their findings and those of the contingent from Taiwan.
He said the outcome of the NBI investigation will be based on their own assessment and evaluation of evidence.
He also emphasized that the results of both investigations are independent of each other because parallel inquiries were conducted.
In the same news conference, Taiwanese investigators said their investigation in the Philippines went smoothly and that they were able to gather the information and evidence they needed.
They also thanked the NBI and the Justice Department for their cooperation.
Taiwan News reported that the investigators told reporters in Taipei that the trip to the Philippines was “extremely helpful in clarifying the evidence.”
The team visited the Ministry of Justice before preparing a report, and it was not immediately known if and when the report would be released to the press.
Media reports in Taiwan said the evidence favored Taiwan’s stance that Hung’s Kuang Ta Hsing No.28 fishing trawler did not try to ram the Philippine government vessel and that it was fishing in an area where the two countries’ exclusive economic zones overlapped. Manila had alleged the ship was operating in Philippine territorial waters off-limits to foreign fishing trawlers.
The crew members of the Philippine ship reportedly told the Taiwanese investigators that the fishing trawler had not rammed them, and that an officer had ordered them to open fire. When one gun failed to work, the agent firing it was forced to take another gun and fire it at the Kuang Ta Hsing No.28, media reports said.
Media reports said it was an M14 automatic rifle that had killed Hung.
In Taiwan, the Philippine team interviewed Hung’s crew, including his son, a son-in-law and an Indonesian citizen, as well as his daughter. The investigators also examined the fishing trawler itself, paying special attention to scratches which media reports initially described as possible evidence of a collision with the Philippine government vessel. The Ministry of Justice later denied there was any link between the marks and the May 9 incident.
Taiwan has imposed 11 sanctions against the Philippines, including a freeze in the hiring of Filipino workers and a travel alert that has already reduced visits to the country.
Foreign Minister David Lin said the handling of the investigation on both sides was a positive development but said sanctions would only be lifted once all four Taiwanese demands have been met.
Taipei wants Manila to offer a sincere apology, to pay compensation to Hung’s family, to punish those responsible for the fisherman’s death and to move toward talks about a bilateral fishery agreement. With Macon R. Araneta and Eric Apolonio