TAIPEI—Did Taiwan set new conditions for helping the Philippines investigate the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coast guards? Or did Taipei simply try to clarify the rules of cooperation between Taiwanese and Filipino investigators?
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Sunday denied Taiwan had set new conditions, but Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) Chairman Amadeo R. Perez maintained his statement on Saturday that new terms had been set and that these would be disclosed Monday.
At any rate, an eight-member team from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) leaves for Taipei Monday morning to begin the last phase of the Philippine investigation of the shooting death of fisherman Hung Shih-chen, which has sparked a major diplomatic row between Manila and Taipei.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (Teco), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Manila, issued visas to the team’s members late last week after the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to Taipei’s request for access to a video of the encounter between Hung’s boat and a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel off Balintang Island in northern Philippines on May 9.
But Perez told the Inquirer on Saturday that Taiwan imposed new conditions and that these had been forwarded to the DOJ for action.
Meeting the new conditions could delay the NBI team’s departure for Taiwan, Perez said.
“There are no new demands from Taiwan,” De Lima told the Inquirer in a text message on Sunday. “The NBI team will leave for Taiwan (Monday morning).”
De Lima said the matter involved “ironing out details” of the agreements between the two sides.
“As I’ve previously mentioned, certain details had to be ironed out, including itineraries of both the Philippine and the Taiwanese teams,” she said.
“There were also written exchanges of lists of requested evidence and agreed parameters of evidence sharing,” she added.
Malacañang and another Meco official on Sunday also said Taiwan did not set new conditions for giving legal assistance to the NBI team.
“I checked that with the secretary of justice, and the reply of Secretary Leila de Lima to me was that there were no new conditions. She also informed me that they were just firming up several—certain—details of the visit by both sides,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on state-run radio.
Meco permanent representative Antonio Basilio said Taiwan was merely clarifying procedures for the various stages of the investigation involving, among other steps, ballistics and forensics.
“Otherwise, it looks like they already have an agreement,” Basilio told the Inquirer by phone. “I don’t see any more impediments to [the NBI team’s] departure.”
It appears that Perez understands the clarification of procedures as conditions.
He said the new conditions were related to the conduct of the investigation.
“The reply of the Department of Justice had been forwarded to the Department of Foreign Affairs for their action,” Perez told the Inquirer by phone.
A source who had knowledge of the negotiations between Meco and Teco said Taiwan had “new requests,” but that these had already been acted upon by the DOJ.
The source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said the DOJ sent a parcel to the Meco office in Manila on Saturday afternoon. The parcel contained the DOJ’s reply to the “new requests” of Taiwan.
Asked what the “new requests” were, the source said, “I have no idea.”
The source said Taiwan’s new requests had not been resolved, but the Taiwanese government gave clearance to the NBI team to travel to Taipei just the same.
The source said the NBI team was expected to arrive in Taipei before noon Monday.
Taiwanese Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang will meet with Filipino journalists in Taipei on Monday afternoon.
He is expected to discuss the “new conditions” or “new requests” set by the Taiwanese government for cooperating in the NBI’s investigation of Hung’s death.
Perez clarified his statement on Saturday that Teco had issued visas to the members of the NBI team.
He said Teco released only photocopies of the team members’ stamped passports.
“The passports of the agents with visas are still with Teco. They have not released them,” he said.
Perez offered no explanation for Teco’s withholding the NBI agents’ passports.
The NBI team wants to examine Hung’s boat, the Guang Ta Hsin 28, which Taiwanese investigators said had taken 45 hits from the Philippine patrol vessel MCS-3001.
No new autopsy
Twenty-four of the hits were on the boat’s cabin, suggesting the coast guards aimed high, although the high hits could be explained by the two vessels’ alternating movements over crests and out of troughs.
The NBI agents also want to interview the fishing boat’s crew and do a new autopsy to determine how Hung died.
In an interview with the Inquirer on Friday, Hung Tzu-chen, a daughter of the slain fisherman, said her family would not allow a new autopsy.
Information from the Taiwan phase of the probe will complete the NBI’s investigation of Hung’s death.
Eleven coast guards and two Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources employees have been relieved while the government awaits the results of the investigation.
Taiwan has demanded, among other things, the punishment of the shooters, compensation for Hung’s family and a formal apology from the Philippine government.—With reports from TJ A. Burgonio and Christine O. Avendaño in Manila
Originally posted: 10:54 pm | Sunday, May 26th, 2013