Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel involved in a confrontation with a Taiwanese fishing boat that resulted in the death of a fisherman on May 9 “might have violated their rules of engagement,” Philippine newspaper the Manila Bulletin reported on Friday.
The PCG has admitted to the shooting, but said that its personnel fired on Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 as it seemed intent on ramming the Philippine vessel MCS-3001, which was jointly manned by the coast guard and personnel from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
Citing an unnamed source at the Philippine Bureau of National Investigation (NBI), which is expected to submit the first part of an investigation this week, the Manila Bulletin said the NBI has found the “use of excessive gunfire” by PCG personnel “unusual” if they indeed were just acting in self-defense during their operation against the fishing boat.
An NBI insider, who refused to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said that a PCG report of the incident has shown signs that “some particular provisions of the PCG’s rules of engagement have been violated,” according to the newspaper.
The report said that Taiwanese fishermen refused to stop, despite local maritime authorities firing warning shots and blaring a horn at Taiwanese fishing boats.
One of the boats maneuvered backward before speeding forward and almost colliding with the stern of the Philippine ship, the PCG report claimed.
Under the PCG’s rules of engagement, personnel cannot fire warning shots to prevent a vessel from escaping or force a vessel to comply with instructions to stop and be boarded, the NBI source was quoted as saying.
Coast guard personnel should employ other means to force a target vessel to comply with their instructions, the Manila Bulletin quoted the source as saying.
“Warning shots are only fired prior to the direct firing at the hostile vessel/craft or its crew member,” the source added.
In this case, the NBI source noted many instances of PCG personnel firing warning shots during chases to try to apprehend Taiwanese fishing vessels, the newspaper said.
“Given that they acted in self-defense, is it justifiable to fire their weapons right away? What does the rules of engagement of PCG say?” the source asked.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Star newspaper reported that the NBI based its initial findings on the incident report submitted by the PCG, and on interviews with personnel on board the Philippine vessel, as well as ballistics testing of firearms used.
In accordance with PCG rules of engagement, warning shots are fired only under extreme circumstances or when an intruding vessel clearly shows hostility, the Philippine Star cited an unnamed source at the NBI as reporting yesterday.
Separately, NBI Deputy Director Virgilio Mendez reportedly told local media in Manila on Friday that investigators are speeding up their work because of the strong reaction in the aftermath of the incident.
Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Friday that the NBI is set to wrap up the first part of its investigation after investigators have quizzed PCG personnel and that it plans to conduct the second phase of its investigation in Taiwan.