Dialogue between Taiwan and the Philippines on mutual legal assistance in investigating the May 9 shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) by Philippine Coast Guard personnel is “close to concluding,” the Ministry of Justice said yesterday.
Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said the wording for paperwork requesting mutual legal assistance was “nearly finished,” adding that Taiwanese investigators would be able to travel to the Philippines once Manila had approved of the final version of Taipei’s official request.
Chen said it was possible that Taiwanese investigators would leave for the Philippines today, but added that talks were still in the final stages of communication and preparation.
Ministry officials said that both Taiwan and the Philippines have reached a consensus on how mutual legal assistance will be tendered and received.
The Philippine Ministry of Justice gave Taipei documents officially requesting mutual assistance and the Taiwanese government returned them after changing some of the wording, the official said.
Taiwan’s version of the documents have already been sent to the Philippines, the official said, adding that the Philippine government would contact the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Manila once it has finalized the official request for mutual legal assistance.
Once the office receives the final version, an investigative team led by the Pingtung District Prosecutors’ Office would be able to head to Manila, the official said, adding that a Philippine investigation team would also be coming to Taiwan.
As of press time, the ministry was unable to determine whether Manila had contacted the office.
Meanwhile, a Filipino official dismissed a Philippine media report about an initial investigation pointing to negligence on behalf of Philippine Coast Guard personnel in the strafing of the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 fishing vessel, calling it speculation.
Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Arman Balilo said the findings reported by the Philippine Star on Saturday were mere conjecture.
“We should wait for the official findings of the NBI [Philippine National Bureau of Investigation]. We should wait for the NBI report because we have to see first what the circumstances alluded to in the report were and what the bases used by the NBI were,” Balilo said.
The Philippine Star said coast guard personnel involved in the attack on the Taiwanese boat that killed 65-year-old Hung could face criminal and administrative charges for violating the rules of engagement, using excessive force and neglecting their duties.
The boat was operating in the overlapping exclusive economic zones of Taiwan and the Philippines when it was fired upon by a joint patrol of the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The NBI has wrapped up its investigation about the shooting on the Philippine side and investigators are ready to depart for Taiwan to conduct further work once they receive visas from Taiwan’s representative office, local officials said.
Meanwhile, Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) Chairman Amadeo Perez on Saturday said he had sent new mutual legal assistance requests from Taipei to Manila.
Perez declined to provide details of the new requests, which were made after Manila on Friday agreed to earlier ones issued by Taiwan, but said the new requests might delay the launch of parallel investigations by the two countries into the incident.
MECO represents the Philippines’ interests in Taiwan in the absence of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries.