MANILA, Philippines – A Philippine panel preparing homicide charges against the country’s coastguards over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman has formally asked his fellow crewmen to appear before it, Manila’s justice secretary said Sunday.
Those asked to appear before the justice department investigation were the three companions of slain fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, whose shooting death at sea in May badly damaged relations between the neighbors.
“The panel of prosecutors subpoenaed them through TECO,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told AFP.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) is the de facto Taiwan embassy in Manila.
The presence of the three was necessary for them to “subscribe and swear to their affidavits” about the incident, de Lima said.
The three were requested to appear on September 9, but it was not immediately clear whether the Taiwan government had responded to the request.
The Philippines and Taiwan began repairing a serious diplomatic rift after Filipino authorities in August recommended homicide charges against the coastguards following pressure from Taiwan.
That move was welcomed by the Taiwanese government, which reciprocated by lifting a ban on the hiring of new Filipino workers on the island.
Some 87,000 Filipinos work in Taiwan, according to official figures.
The May 9 incident occurred in waters near an island in the Philippines’ extreme north, which Taiwan also claims as part of its economic zone.
Hung, 65, was killed when the coastguards opened fire on the small vessel he was crewing with his son and two others.
The killing was described by Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou as “cold-blooded murder”, and his government had previously rejected official apologies from Manila and demanded criminal charges against the coastguards.
The coastguards had defended their action, and said they fired because the Taiwanese vessel tried to ram their vessel.
But a 40-minute video of the incident released by the justice department showed the Taiwanese vessel had not acted threateningly but only tried to escape before the shooting started.