HOMICIDE RAPS NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas presents to media Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, the bureau’s investigation into the case of 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng who was shot dead by Philippine Coast Guard crewmen on board MCS 3001 in Balintang Channel on May 9, 2013 and its recommendation for the filing of homicide charges against the eight members of the PCG involved in the incident. Video by INQUIRER.net’s Ryan Leagogo
MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday it has recommended that homicide charges be filed against eight members of the Philippine Coast Guard involved in the shooting to death of a Taiwanese fisherman last May in Balintang Channel.
At a press conference, NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas presented to members of the media the 84-page result of the bureau’s investigation on the case of 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng, who was shot dead by PCG crewmen on board MCS 3001 in Balintang Channel on May 9.
“The PCG wasn’t able to establish that there was eminent threat to their lives,” Rojas said, in reference to a video footage of the incident taken by a PCG personnel using his own recorder.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry welcomed the move as a “constructive response” in a dispute that severely strained relations, and said it would recommend that the island’s government lift sanctions against Manila.
The announcement follows weeks of high tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines, after coastguard chiefs in Manila initially insisted the fishing vessel had tried to ram the coastguard boat and their personnel had fired in self-defense.
Facing homicide charges are:
Commanding Officer Arnold dela Cruz
Since foreign fishing vessels were in the waters of the country’s territory, Rojas said the boats were given a signal to stop for inspection over possible poaching activities in compliance with the protocols of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
SN1 Edrando Quiapo Aguila
SN1 Mhelvin Bendo
SN2 Nicky Reynold Aurello
SN1 Andy Gibb Ronario Golfo
SN1 Sunny Galang Masangcay
SN1 Henry Baco Solomon
PO2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz
On May 9, PCG was patrolling in what NBI said was well within the Philippines’ 200 kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone (approximately 40 nautical miles from the country’s baselines and within its EEZ), when it encountered two Taiwanese fishing vessels.
When the Taiwanese boats refused to stop, the PCG then fired warning shots and “eventually fired directly at the fishing boat” where Hung Shih-cheng was on board.
Rojas said that PCG’s existing rules only allow that they use firearms or any other weapons when they are met with “grave and imminent threat to their lives.”
In this case, since the fishermen didn’t have any firearms, the lives of PCG personnel will only be threatened if the vessels of the Taiwan fishermen will be used to ram PCG’s patrol vessel.
Rojas said PCG earlier claimed that there were at least three occasions where the vessels attempted to ram the PCG’s patrol boat.
But out of the three occasions, Rojas said, only one was clearly captured by the video.
Apart from gunshots being heard at the background, the footage also showed that there was a time that one of the vessels stopped, but restarted “until it totally disengaged and accelerated forward at full power.”
Rojas quoted the PCG members as saying that it was at that point that the fishing boat almost rammed the patrol vessel.
“However, based on the viewing of the video, the attempt to ram the patrol [boat] is not clear. It is possible that the fishing boat merely intended to get away from the patrol [vessel], but not ram it,” Rojas said.
He added that this is the only portion of the footage that can be considered as evidence of an attempted ramming, or a threat to the lives of the PCG crew to justify the use of firearms.
But the PCG still failed to prove with their video that the fishing boat really attempted to ram their patrol vessel, Rojas said.
“Because the video is inconclusive, the remaining evidence of the PCG has to prove the attempted ramming is their sworn statement,” Rojas said, but of which the Taiwanese fishermen “directly contradicted.”
“Between the two opposing versions of whether or not there was an attempted ramming, the factual issue is that the question on who’s statement is more credible, and which among the two opposing crews are telling the truth,” he said.
Meanwhile, charges of obstruction of justice will be slapped against the commanding officer, the executive officer, and two other PCG personnel “because they tampered with the evidence during the investigation.”
Falsified report, spliced video
Rojas said these personnel falsified their report which reduced the rounds of ammunition used in the incident by about 72 rounds.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NBI INVESTIGATION
♦ The PCG fired more than one hundred rounds of ammunition at the fleeing Taiwanese fishing vessel, inexplicably a high volume of firepower used on an unarmed fishing vessel.
♦ The use of deadly force regressed into indiscriminate firing during the latter part of the chase, when the fishing boat stopped evasive maneuvers in order to escape at full speed.
♦ At the point of the indiscriminate firing, the PCG crew was no longer acting in lawful observation of the ROE (rules of engagement).
“They also spliced the video footage taken of the incident, cutting out vital portions of the video recording,” he said, but added that “a more complete” version of the video was eventually submitted to the NBI.
Dela Cruz and Bendo were also among those slapped with obstruction of justice, along with SN1 Marvin Ramirez and LTJG Martin Bernabe.
Along with NBI, Taiwan also launched its own investigation on the incident, and demanded that the Philippine government apologize for the death of their countryman.
A few days after the incident, President Benigno Aquino III appointed Amadeo Perez Jr., chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, to stand as his representative to convey his “deep regret and apology” over the incident.
Apart from a “formal apology,” Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou also asked the Philippine government to offer assistance, or compensation to the fisherman’s family, among others.
In July, reports had it that about 10,000 OFWs in Taiwan were forced to return to the country after their job contracts were terminated amid the unresolved case.
A total of 11 PCG personnel who were on board MCS 3001 during the incident were immediately relieved from their posts, as well as its commanding officer.
Originally posted at 2:18 p.m.