Hearings over, Manila to decide shooting charges
CNAMANILA -- The Philippines on Monday formally concluded its initial investigation into an attack on a Taiwanese fishing boat in May that left one fisherman dead and will decide within 60 days whether to indict Coast Guard personnel involved in the shooting.
October 2, 2013, 12:09 am TWN
The Philippine Department of Justice convened its third and final hearing Monday on the attack on the Taiwanese fishing boat, the Kwang Ta Hsing No. 28, which took place on May 9.
It will now decide if it should hand down indictments on homicide charges against eight Coast Guard officers, as was recommended by the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Aug. 7 after its investigation into the incident.
The officers suspected in the shooting, including Coast Guard commander Arnold de la Cruz who allegedly ordered the attack, testified at Monday's hearing and defended themselves against allegations made by the family of the victim, 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng.
De la Cruz insisted that he and other law enforcement officers had no intention to kill any of the fishermen aboard the ship.
Other Coast Guard members questioned how the NBI could be certain of Hung's death since it had not conducted an autopsy on the Taiwanese fisherman and had not received Hung's death certificate.
The team of prosecutors in charge of the case will decide whether to indict the suspects within 60 days after collecting all evidence and testimony related to the case.
Taiwan's representative office in the Philippines said that it would closely monitor the process and prod Manila to complete the investigation in a swift and just manner.
In the May 9 incident, Philippine Coast Guard personnel fired on Hung's boat while it was operating in waters where the two countries' exclusive economic zones overlap.
In an Aug. 7 report on the incident, the NBI recommended homicide charges against eight men and an additional charge of obstruction of justice against four of the officers.
The NBI opted not to recommend the more serious charge of “murder” requested by Hung's family because the incident was “unplanned and unpremeditated” and the officers warned the ship several times before shooting, the report said.
“There was no abuse of superior strength because the firing was made intermittently and not fully taken advantage of by the Philippine Coast Guard personnel,” the report said.
“The force employed was mainly aimed to disable the engine and not to maim or kill the fishermen.”
The incident soured relations between Taiwan and the Philippines, which have not normalized until after Manila apologized and compensated the family of the victim, issued a promise to prosecute those responsible and opened fishery talks to prevent similar events from taking place again.