Homicide charges eyed over Taiwanese death

Paterno Esmaquel II
(2nd UPDATE) The NBI recommends the filing of homicide charges against 8 Philippine Coast Guard personnel over a Taiwanese fisherman's death

INSPECTING THE PCG BOAT. Filipino and Taiwanese investigators inspect the MCS-3001 vessel involved in the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in South Harbor, Manila, Philippines, 28 May 2013. Photo by Susan Corpuz/EPA

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday, August 7, said it has recommended homicide charges against 8 Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel involved in a Taiwanese fisherman’s death.

In a press conference, NBI director Nonnatus Rojas said PCG Commanding Officer Arnold dela Cruz, as well as 7 other PCG personnel, should face homicide charges over the shooting incident. 

The 7 other personnel include:

  1. SN1 Edrando Quiapo Aguila;
  2. SN1 Mhelvin Bendo;
  3. SN2 Nicky Reynold Aurello;
  4. SN1 Andy Gibb Ronario Golfo;
  5. SN1 Sunny Galang Masangcay;
  6. SN1 Henry Baco Solomon; and
  7. PO2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz

“These 8 Philippine Coast Guard personnel were the ones who have admitted to have fired their firearms,” leading to the death, Rojas said.

The NBI also recommended charges of obstruction of justice against Dela Cruz, Executive Officer Martin Bernabe, and two others for tampering with evidence.

The bureau on Wednesday released the results of its probe into the case, which has strained relations between the Philippines and Taiwan, and has left up to 16,000 Filipinos jobless.

READ: PH-Taiwan row: Can’t help jobless OFWs

‘Not justified’

In its recommendations, the NBI said the use of “deadly force” against the Taiwanese fishing boat had “no conclusive justification.” Based on footage on the incident, the NBI said there was “no categorical proof” that the Taiwanese fishing boat posed “an imminent or grave threat” to those aboard the Philippine patrol craft.

The NBI said the footage “is at best a disputable proof of the alleged ramming, and nothing more.” The bureau, however, did not discount the PCG’s testimony on the alleged ramming.

“The factual issue boils down to a question on whose statements are more credible and which among the two opposing crews is telling the truth. The determination on whose version is credible rests with the investigating prosecutor or the trial judge,” Rojas said.

He said both sides “are free to present additional evidence” during the preliminary investigation or courtroom trial.

FULL REPORT. The NBI releases the results of its investigation into a Taiwanese fisherman's death. Photo by Paterno Esmaquel II

Burden of proof

Since the allegation of ramming came from the PCG, the NBI said, “The burden on proof is on the PCG, as against the negative allegation of the Taiwanese fishermen that they did not attempt to ram the Philippine patrol craft.”

In its report, the NBI also said the incident took place, “without a doubt,” within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

This means the apprehending of the Taiwanese fishing vessel “was validly carried out” by the PCG personnel, according to the NBI. This also means that domestic penal laws applied to the PCG personnel.

Despite the NBI’s recommended charges, the Philippines and Taiwan still need to mend diplomatic ties that the incident damaged.

Amadeo Perez Jr, chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), earlier said the fisherman’s family wanted the Philippines to issue an official apology to the Taiwanese government. The Philippine government has not acted on this request.

Perez said the President instead extended his “personal apology” to the people of Taiwan. “There are issues why our government cannot issue a formal apology,” he said.  – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.