A Taiwanese delegation is to depart for Manila as soon as it receives consent from the Philippines for judicial assistance in the probe of Philippine Coast Guard personnel that shot dead a Taiwanese fisherman earlier this month, a Ministry of Justice (MOJ) official said yesterday.
Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said the ministry expects to receive formal consent in written form tomorrow and that the Taiwanese delegation, comprised mainly of prosecutors from the Pingtung District Prosecutors’ Office, would travel to Manila at once.
A Philippine investigation team is also to travel to Taiwan, Chen said.
Taipei and Manila have both requested judicial assistance in the probe into the May 9 shooting incident that resulted in the death of 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) and triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries.
An earlier Taiwanese delegation of prosecutors and judicial officials arrived in Manila on May 16, but was forced to return to Taipei two days later after the Philippine authorities apparently reneged on a previous promise for a joint investigation into the case.
The Philippine Department of Justice later agreed to a “parallel investigation,” with each side conducting the inquiry on its own while agreeing to help each other in the process, in line with a bilateral agreement on judicial assistance signed last month.
Taiwan has made 10 requests, including asking for access to a video recording of the attack by the Philippine Coast Guard personnel, while Manila has issued 11 requests with regard to the inquiry into the shooting.
The Philippines has agreed to allow Taiwanese forensic experts to board the Philippine patrol ship to check whether the bullets they gathered from the Taiwanese fishing boat and the body of Hung were fired from its guns.
Taiwanese investigators can also question Philippine Coast Guard personnel involved in the shooting, but if they decline to respond, the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation will provide testimony collected by the bureau’s staff.
Manila has reportedly also agreed to allow Taiwanese investigators to view a video of the shooting recorded by the Philippines vessel that mounted the attack.
Meanwhile, a major daily in Manila reported yesterday that initial findings by Philippine investigators point to criminal negligence on the part of the Philippine Coast Guard personnel.
The personnel involved may face criminal and administrative charges for possible violations of the rules of engagement, excessive use of force and neglect of duty, the Philippine Star said, citing an unidentified source.
Warning shots are not allowed under the rules of engagement and it would amount to excessive use of force if the 50 bullet holes reportedly found on the fishing vessel can be proven to have come from the firearms of Philippine Coast Guard personnel, the paper said.
Refusing to confirm the “initial findings,” Philippine Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima said the team from the National Bureau of Investigation is ready to fly to Taiwan “any time once all the needed arrangements have been made” with Taipei, the paper said.