MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine Coast Guard on Wednesday shrugged off an Inquirer report that the National Bureau of Investigation had recommended the filing of criminal charges against its personnel who were involved in the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman in northern Philippine waters last month.
“It’s not yet final,” Cmdr. Armand Balilo, spokesman for the Coast Guard, said, adding that the Inquirer report, based on an interview with a source who had knowledge of the NBI investigation of fisherman Hung Shih-chen’s death, “is not official.”
The source, who asked not to be identified because he had no authority to talk to the press on the matter, said the NBI had submitted its report on the investigation to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
Balilo said the Coast Guard would “wait for the official communication on the matter from the NBI.”
Seventeen coast guards have been interviewed by the NBI and by a team of investigators from Taiwan on the fatal shooting of Hung during a high-speed chase off Balintang Island on May 9.
The Inquirer source said the NBI investigative report contained the names of the coast guards who fired at Hung’s boat, the Guan Ta Hsin 28.
The report also names the coast guard who fired the 7.62mm bullet that killed Hung, the source said.
The shooter was identified through ballistic tests on his M-14 rifle matching the weapon’s signature with the gun signature on the slug recovered from Hung’s body during the autopsy.
The Inquirer source did not say what criminal charges would be brought against the coast guards, just saying that the investigators considered murder, because of the use of superior force against an unarmed civilian.
But the investigators also considered homicide, the source said, because the killing of the fisherman was not premeditated.
Last week, Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, Coast Guard commandant, said his command was waiting for the results of the NBI investigation.
Isorena said the Coast Guard would respect the NBI’s findings.
Charge poachers, too
“If our men are found to have violated the Coast Guard rules of engagement, then they would have to face the consequences of their actions,” Isorena said.
But Sen. Gregorio Honasan warned Malacañang about the implications of prosecuting the coast guards.
Honasan said the government should also press Taiwan to hold liable its citizens who encroached on Philippine waters, leading to the shooting death of Hung.
“If we’re going to hold our own personnel liable, what’s the culpability of the Taiwanese poaching in our own waters?” he said.
“We’re treading dangerous waters here. We might set a bad precedent. What about our own interests?” he said.
Honasan said the incident that led to Hung’s death could happen again if Taiwanese poaching in Philippine waters continued.
“If Filipinos are caught poaching in Taiwanese waters and are shot at, do you think we will be given reciprocal treatment?” Honasan asked.
The Philippines cooperated with Taiwan in the investigation of Hung’s death, which sparked a major diplomatic row between Manila and Taipei.
Taiwan demanded an apology from the Philippine government, compensation for Hung’s family, the arrest and punishment of the shooters and the initiation of fisheries talks between the two countries.
To pressure Manila to comply, Taipei froze new jobs in Taiwan for Filipino migrant workers and suspended tourist travel to the Philippines and economic and cultural exchanges between the two countries.
Honasan said a fisheries agreement was a way of legally dealing with poaching in each side’s territory.
“That is a positive and practical solution,” he said.
But the NBI’s recommending the prosecution of the coast guards involved in the May 9 incident could affect the morale of Coast Guard personnel.
The vessel involved in the shooting death of Hung, the MCS-3001, joined other Coast Guard vessels in Independence Day ceremonies at Manila’s South Harbor on Wednesday.
The vessels blew their horns to “symbolize their commitment to the command’s mandate to protect our coasts and marine resources,” Balilo said.—With reports from Norman Bordadora and Kristine Felisse Mangunay
Originally posted at 07:31 pm | Wednesday, June 12, 2013