The diplomatic row between Taiwan and the Philippines might be resolved soon after Taipei said it found Manila’s report on the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) by Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel, released yesterday, “a constructive response” to the incident.
After Manila “offers concrete commitments to the four demands” made by Taipei, the ministry would suggest that the 11 sanctions imposed on the Philippines be lifted so the two countries can return to an amicable relationship, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Shih (石定) told a press conference.
The press conference, where Taiwan gave its version of events, was held an hour after the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) released its report on the incident in Manila.
Hung was killed on May 9 when his fishing boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, was attacked by PCG personnel on board the Philippine patrol vessel MCS-3001, which belongs to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Taiwan imposed 11 sanctions on May 15, including freezing the hiring of Philippine workers, after Manila failed to meet Taipei’s deadline for it to offer a formal apology for the incident; compensate Hung’s family; uncover the truth behind the incident and punish the culprits; and begin bilateral talks over a fisheries agreement to avoid similar incidents in the future.
In their separate investigations, prosecutors at the Pingtung District Prosecutors’ Office and NBI officials both recommended homicide charges against Arnold Dela Cruz y Enriquez, commander of the PCG crew on MCS-3001, and seven other PCG personnel.
Taiwanese prosecutors said the commander gave the order for PCG personnel to open fire on the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 after the MCS-3001 commanded the fishing boat to allow PCG personnel to board for an inspection, but the fishing boat attempted to flee, Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said.
The PCG personnel had been “unhappy” that the order to conduct an onboard inspection had been rejected and they chased the fishing boat for 75 minutes, Chen said.
“We thought that the act would have constituted murder under Paragraph 1 of Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, but we respect the Philippines’ jurisdiction to recommend homicide charges,” Chen said.
However, Chen called on the Philippine judiciary to “throw the book at” the eight PCG personnel who stand accused of the killing of Hung so justice could be brought for his family.
Under the revised penal code, a conviction for homicide could lead to a jail sentence of between 12 and 20 years, while murder leads to between 20 and 40 years.
According to a GMA News report, the NBI said it recommended homicide charges because there was no “qualifying circumstance for murder” in the incident.
Under Taiwan’s Criminal Code, a homicide charge carries a much heavier penalty than in the Philippines either the death sentence, life imprisonment or imprisonment for not less than 10 years.
Taiwanese prosecutors hoped for a murder charge because they found that the PCG personnel had the “intent to kill,” Chen said.
Never during the 75-minute chase did the unarmed Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 or its crew put the MCS-3001’s crew under imminent threat of death or serious injury, nor did the fishing boat try to ram the Philippine vessel, Chen said.
The reports’ findings disproved the earlier claim made by the PCG that they fired at the Taiwanese fishing boat in self-defense.
Also disproved was the PCG’s earlier claim that the fishing boat had attempted to ram the MCS-3001 because the claim was not accepted in the NBI report, Chen said.
Chen said the PCG personnel violated rules of engagement when employing the weapons, identified as 0.30-caliber machine guns, and M14 and M16 rifles, and that they engaged in excessive use of violence against the fishing boat.
Taiwan’s report found that the PCG personnel fired 108 bullets in the attack, 45 of which hit the boat.
Chen said that both reports have ascertained that the incident took place in waters where the exclusive economic zones of the two nations overlap, rather than in Philippine territorial waters as previously claimed.
The NBI report stated that the incident happened in waters about 40 nautical miles (74km) east of Balintang Island in the Philippines, outside the 12 nautical mile territorial waters as defined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Department of Treaty and Legal Affairs Direector-General Perry Shen (申佩璜) said.
After the incident, the PCG said the fishing boat had intruding into Philippine territorial waters and was poaching.
Manila Economic and Cultural Office Chairman Amadeo Perez is scheduled to arrive in Taiwan today on behalf of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to provide a full account of the efforts his government has made to amend bilateral relations and to visit Hung’s family in Siaoliouciou (小琉球), Pingtung County, to apologize.
Shih said the Philippine government and the Hung family have reached a consensus on the compensation.
Hung’s eldest daughter, Hung Tzu-chien (洪慈綪), said the family found the homicide charge acceptable, compared with the previous Philippine account that her father’s death was an “unintended loss of life.”
However, she said the family would accept the apology from Perez only when he has proper authorization from the Philippine president.
Meanwhile, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) defended the government’s efforts to protect the rights of Taiwanese fishermen following the incident, while insisting that the government always aims to resolve disputes using peaceful measures.
“The Kuan Ta-hsing No. 28 incident marked the first time in the history of the Republic of China that the government spared no effort to sanction the Philippines due to the loss of life of one Taiwanese fisherman … We must fight for the justice we deserve,” he said at the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee meeting.
Ma said that Taiwan is a peace-loving county that always avoids solving problems using force.
However, the coast guard and the navy would make every effort to protect the rights of Taiwanese fishermen when they are threatened, he said.
Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih
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