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June 29, 2017

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Philippine reports argue rules of engagement

MANILA--Coast guard personnel who sprayed bullets at a Taiwanese fishing boat last week may have violated rules for dealing with such a situation, Philippine newspapers have reported.

Citing an official privy to a government investigation into the case, the English-language Philippine Star reported Saturday that the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel who shot a Taiwanese fisherman dead on May 9 appeared to be acting to defend themselves.

But there were violations of some provisions in the PCG's rules of engagement, the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

Among the questions the official raised was, "while it could have been self-defense, the next question would be: was it proper to immediately fire the shots?"

"What do the rules of engagement of the PCG say?" the official asked.

The Philippine daily said information gathered so far by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has indicated that the crew of the MCS-3001, a 35-meter vessel jointly manned by the PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), was preventing Taiwanese fishing boats from further entering Philippine territory.

"One of the foreign vessels threatened to ram the PCG vessel several times," the report said, referring to the Taiwanese fishing boat — the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 — that was attacked.

The NBI based its initial findings on the incident report submitted by the PCG and on interviews with coast guard and BFAR personnel involved, as well as ballistics testing of the firearms used, the newspaper said.

On Friday, the NBI showed the media the firearms, consisting of eight M-16 rifles, six M-14 rifles and a machine gun.

The official quoted in the Philippine Star report said that under the rules of engagement, coast guard personnel can only fire warning shots when an intruding vessel clearly shows hostility.

The Manila Bulletin ran a similar report a day earlier, citing an NBI insider as saying that it's "unusual for authorities to use excessive gunfire if they indeed were just acting in self-defense."

According to the newspaper, the PCG said in a three-page report on the fatal incident that the crew of the MCS-3001 acted in self-defense when it shot at the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 in a bid to disable its engine, but Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng was killed in the process.

The NBI source said coast guard personnel "cannot fire warning shots to prevent the target vessel from escaping or to force the target vessel to comply with the instructions to stop and be boarded, based on the rules of engagement," according to the paper.

Instead, personnel in charge of the unit afloat should employ other means necessary to force the target vessel to comply with its instructions, the source was cited as saying.

According to the source, warning shots are only fired prior to the direct firing at a hostile vessel or its crew members, the paper reported.

According to the Philippine Star, an official investigation report on the case will not be available until next week.

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