Taiwanese fisherman arrives to testify at trial of Coast Guard men
MANILA, Philippines—State prosecutors are ready to present their first witness in the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman in the Balintang Channel when the trial of eight Philippine Coast Guard men begins in the Batanes Regional Trial Court next week.
Juan Pedro Navera, head of the prosecution panel, said Taiwanese fisherman Hong Yu Tzu arrived in Manila on Friday and is set to fly to Batanes with the Department of Justice team on Sunday for hearings set on November 24 and 25.
Hong is the son of Hong Shi Cheng, who was killed when PCG men fired on their fishing vessel in the Balintang Channel last May 9. He is the state panel’s key witness, having seen the incident himself.
“He is already here. We’re going to bring him to Batanes for the pretrial and trial,” Navera said.
Pretrial proceedings are scheduled on Monday, while Hong is expected to take the witness stand the next day.
Navera said Hong arrived by himself, but the DOJ panel expects a representative from the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office to assist the witness in Batanes.
Teco is the counterpart of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), the Philippine agency that manages the country’s relations with Taiwan, in accordance with its one-China policy.
The prosecutor said the government panel would fight all attempts to delay the trial, citing how the defendants filed several pleadings seeking to reset the long-scheduled hearing.
“We hope we will be able to present him for direct examination,” Navera said in a telephone interview. “We are opposed to all motions to cancel or reset the hearing because the accused have the right to a speedy trial. All these things we are doing are actually for them.”
He had earlier said he hoped the trial would continue without delays, as the proceedings are costly to the government. The team has to fly to Batanes every court date, and had to bring in Hong from Taiwan on the government’s account for his scheduled testimony.
“We will meet with him [to prepare him for his testimony] maybe Saturday or when we get to Batanes. We already got an interpreter from Meco for his testimony,” said Navera of Hong, who is expected to testify in Mandarin.
Eight PCG men are on trial for the elder Hong’s death: Commanding Officer Arnold dela Cruz, Seaman 2nd Class Nicky Reynold Aurello, Police Officer 2 Richard Corpuz, and Seamen 1st Class Mhelvin Bendo II, Andy Gibb Golfo, Sunny Masangkay, Henry Solomon and Endrando Aguila.
Of the accused, only Aguila has yet to be arraigned. Navera said he is expected to appear during the trial.
The incident soured relations between the Philippines and Taiwan last year, with the latter warning of several sanctions against the country.
Gary Song-Huann Lin, Teco’s new representative in Manila, said in a recent interview that the “small incident” should not affect relations between the two sides, adding that his government “has goodwill to restrengthen the relationship.”
He said Taiwan would respect the outcome of the trial and that it was cooperating with the Philippines “to bring this matter to a full close.”
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