TAIPEI—Taiwan on Wednesday set aside a Philippine request for legal assistance, delaying the completion of Manila’s investigation of the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coast guards two weeks ago.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Justice said it declined the Philippine request for the time being because Manila continued to refuse to provide a video of the May 9 encounter between a Philippine coastal patrol vessel and a Taiwanese fishing boat that led to the shooting death of fisherman Hung Shih-chen, 65.
An investigative team from the National Bureau of Investigation was due in Taipei on Thursday to conduct a probe into the shooting, but a source with knowledge of the negotiations between Manila and Taipei for mutual legal assistance confirmed that the Philippine refusal to provide Taiwanese prosecutors a copy of the video caused the suspension of cooperation in the investigation.
An NBI source who asked not to be identified because Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had gagged the investigative team told the Inquirer that the visa applications of the team’s members remained uncleared by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Manila.
“We are still waiting for the clearance from Teco for the agents to leave for Taiwan,” the source said.
De Lima admitted the delay in the NBI team’s departure, but stopped short of acknowledging the hitch.
“Certain details still have to be ironed out,” she said in a text message to reporters, but did not elaborate.
De Lima did not reply to questions about the Philippine refusal to give the Taiwanese a copy of the video, which she earlier described as “very revealing.”
Philippine and Taiwanese officials agreed on Monday to give each other’s investigators access to evidence and witnesses to establish the circumstances surrounding the death of Hung.
Taiwanese officials agreed to allow an NBI team to travel to Taiwan to inspect Hung’s fishing boat, the Guang Ta Hsin 28, reportedly hit 45 times with high-velocity bullets, and interview the vessel’s crew.
In return, Philippine officials agreed to allow Taiwanese investigators to come to Manila and examine the Philippine Coast Guard-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel, the MCS-3001, which raked Hung’s boat with gunfire, and run the firearms of the coast guards involved through ballistic tests.
De Lima said a new investigative team from Taiwan was expected to arrive “anytime” in Manila.
The team will join the Taiwanese investigators who arrived in Manila last week, she said.
The Philippine and Taiwanese investigations will start “simultaneously,” she added.
According to the NBI source, an official from Pintung county, who is investigating the shooting incident, has arrived in Manila to assist the Taiwanese prosecutors already here in the “proper exchange” of evidence for the investigation.
The China Post identified the official as Pintung head prosecutor Yen-liang.
In Taipei, Eric Chiang, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Inquirer that no date had been set for the arrival of the NBI team.
“Negotiations are still [going on to resolve] some disagreements,” Chiang said, referring to the Philippines’ balking at the Taiwanese request for a copy of the video of the May 9 incident.
Chiang said Hung’s body remained in a morgue and the funeral had been temporarily set on June 10.
The NBI wants to do a new autopsy to determine how Hung died, for which De Lima said permission from the fisherman’s family might be needed.
De Lima said Manila was standing by its position that the incident happened in Philippine waters, which would be included in the final NBI report.
Asked about Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s statement that the coast guards did not observe the rules of engagement, De Lima said, “Let’s just wait for the NBI report, please.”
Lawyer Harry Roque of the Center for International Law said that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), the Philippine Coast Guard had no authority to arrest or use force on foreign fishermen for illegally fishing in Philippine waters.
Roque said the convention only allowed a state to apprehend the foreign vessel.
As the coast guards violated the Unclos, the Philippine government should apologize for the killing of Hung and pay compensation to the fisherman’s family, he said.
Roque said the NBI investigation was in order, but questioned why the government issued an apology when it still did not know the full account of the incident.
Taiwan rejected the apology issued last week by President Aquino for referring to the death of Hung as “unintended” and an “unfortunate loss of life.”
“The lesson here is for government spokespersons to keep quiet when it comes to sensitive matters,” Roque said.—With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and China Post/ANN