MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 15 on Wednesday, September 18, convicted 8 officers of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) of homicide for the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman in 2013.
The court sentenced the officers to 8 to 14 years in prison. They are:
"Judgment is hereby rendered finding the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide defined in and penalized under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code," said the verdict promulgated on Wednesday by Branch 15 Judge Eduardo Ramon Reyes.
The verdict added: "Accused are hereby ordered to pay, jointly and severally, the heirs of the victim the amount of P50,000 (US $958) as civil indemnity, and P50,000 as moral damages."
The lawyer for the 8 PCG officers said they would appeal the judgment before the Court of Appeals. Homicide is a bailable offense and they could continue enjoying temporary liberty until the verdict becomes final.
"Let us not forget the Taiwanese boat was stealing from the Philippines. That is the bottomline, the PCG was protecting the Philippines from Taiwanese thieves," said their lawyer Rodrigo Moreno.
The PCG personnel had maintained that they were just doing their duty when they shot at the Taiwanese boat which was engaged in illegal fishing in Philippine waters. One of the fishermen on board was killed in the process.
Intent to kill?
While the PCG claimed they were only stopping the illegal fishers, the court said that legally, the intent to kill was shown in the use of high-velocity firearms and the firing of these guns at least 53 times.
There were a total of 16 PCG personnel on board patrol boat MCS-3001, and some of them testified that upon seeing the Taiwanese fishing boat at the Balintang Channel off Batanes, their boat blew its horn for the foreign boat to stop.
When it didn't, the other crew members said Dela Cruz ordered the firing of warning shots. When the warning shots still didn't compel the Taiwanese boat to stop, Dela Cruz decided to "fire for effect" to disable the engine.
One of the Taiwanese fishermen, Huang Shih-Cheng, died on the boat with his autopsy showing that "a high-velocity bullet" killed him.
The defense did not offer testimonial evidence, which led the court to say that "no extenuating circumstance was presented by the accused to show that the killing of the victim was legally justified."
"In such case, even if there is no intent to kill, the crime is homicide because with respect to crimes of personal violence, the penal law looks particularly to the material results following the unlawful act and holds the aggressor responsible for all the consequences thereof," said Judge Reyes.
Reyes said the intent to kill "is often inferred from the means the offender used."
"Intent to kill is also manifest considering the 53 points of impact found in Guang Da Xing No. 28," he said.
PCG Spokesperson Captain Armand Balilio said the verdict would affect the morale of the coast guards.
"We are a professional organization and we would continue to perform our function, our job despite this setback. We would continue to patrol and apprehend but on the other side, malulungkot ang mga tao, malulungkot kami para dito (our men would be sad, we would be sad over this)," said Balilio.