Taipei, Manila arrive at consensus on joint probe

POLITICAL POSTURING::A source said Manila’s previous refusal to cooperate with Taiwan in investigating Hung Shih-cheng’s death had only been a ‘political gesture’

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporter

Mon, May 20, 2013 - Page 1

Taipei and Manila have reached a consensus on initiating a joint investigation into the shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) by Philippine Coast Guard personnel and will soon work out how to proceed with the matter, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said yesterday.

Lin saw the agreement a “positive” step toward resolving the diplomatic spat.

Both sides have agreed to arrange for the other side to conduct fact-finding trips in their respective countries to discover the truth behind the fatal shooting and have shown willingness to cooperate with each other during their individual investigations, Lin said.

The bilateral cooperation in the case was termed, both by Lin and Philippine Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, as a “parallel investigation” instead of a “joint investigation” to avoid concerns on both sides of sovereign interference.

A bilateral mechanism to enable cooperation on the case was established when Taiwan’s investigative team visited Manila late last week and both sides have presented their requests to open investigation in writing to each other, Lin said.

“With the consensus, both sides will determine an agenda and items of cooperation for their investigations on the principle of reciprocity to facilitate the uncovering of the truth and subsequent punishment of those responsible,” Lin said.

After a two-day stay in Manila, the Taiwanese team returned home on Saturday “dissatisfied.” During their stay in Manila, several Philippine officials told them that a joint investigation was “out of question.”

An official familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the rhetoric by both sides came at a time when tensions were at a peak and were uttered as a “political gesture” to show their discontent with each other.

Manila does not have a problem with Taiwan investigating the case in the Philippines, the official said, adding “the tense atmosphere last week was not conducive to negotiation, which was why the investigation team returned on Saturday seemingly empty-handed.”

The ministry added in a press release that Manila Economic and Cultural Office Chairman Amadeo Perez visited Taiwan’s representative office in Manila on Friday to say that a meeting could be set up today for the investigative team to meet with personnel from the Philippines Bureau of National Investigation.

Both sides will allow prosecutors from the other side to “interrogate witnesses” and look into evidence related to the incident, the ministry said, adding that Taiwan will soon send a delegation to the Philippines after personnel with judicial departments of both sides finalize details on how to cooperate with their investigations.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) yesterday said the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 was riddled with 45 inward bullet holes, 24 of which were concentrated on a cabin where the boat’s four crew had been hiding.

The Ministry of Justice also publicized evidence it said indicated that the death of 65-year-old Hung was intentional.

Among the evidence presented by the ministry was a bullet with Hung’s blood on it that was recovered from the boat, two pictures showing fatal bullet wounds on Hung’s neck, pictures of the bullet marks on the cabin and the boat’s Voyage Data Recorder.

The recorder’s data shows the precise location of the boat when the incident took place, which was within Taiwan’s exclusive economic zone, Chen said.

“It is a cross-border crime, with evidence such as the suspects, the Philippine Coast Guard and guns in the Philippines, while the victims and the boat are in Taiwan,” he said. “It would be impossible to resolve the case if the two countries did not work together and combine all their evidence.”

Meanwhile, in Manila, Perez said the Philippines is waiting for tempers in Taiwan to cool before settling the dispute.

Issues like Manila’s “one China” policy and comments by Taiwanese investigators branding the incident as “murder” have complicated the situation, Perez said in an interview with DZMM radio.

Additional reporitng by Rich Chang and AFP