The Philippines yesterday moved a step closer to indicting its coast guard personnel implicated in the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-cheng (洪石成) when the National Prosecution Service (NPS) of the country’s department of justice received a recommendation to press charges against them, according to media reports from Manila.
Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was quoted as saying yesterday that charges against the coast guard personnel were already filed with the NPS by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Tuesday afternoon.
According to Philippine legal procedure, the NPS will now designate a panel of prosecutors to conduct a preliminary investigation into the case and it is up to the panel to decide what charges are to be filed against the men in court.
Hung was shot dead when the Philippine government vessel with 17 coast guard personnel on board engaged his fishing boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, in waters in the two countries’ overlapping exclusive economic zones on May 9.
After completing its investigation of the incident, the NBI recommended the filing of criminal complaints of homicide against eight coast guard personnel, including Commanding Officer Arnold de la Cruz, as well as charges of obstruction of justice against four of the eight coast guard personnel.
The NBI reportedly said that the eight could be held culpable of the crime of homicide, because no conclusion could be made that the Taiwanese fishing boat had tried to ram the Philippine vessel and that its occupants posed an imminent or actual peril to the coast guard personnel to justify the act of using deadly force in self-defense.
Hung died of a gunshot wound that was caused by one of the firearms used in shooting at the fishing boat, which “raised the presumption, albeit disputable, of their [the coast guard personnel’s] intent to kill,” the NBI said in the report.
Four of the coast guard personnel were charged with obstruction of justice because NBI investigators found that they had tampered with evidence. This included several segments being deleted from the memory card of the camera used to take videos and photograph of the incident by a crew member.
On the same day the NBI report was released, Taiwanese prosecutors at the Pingtung Prosecutors’ Office in Pingtung filed an indictment against the same eight Philippine coast guard personnel on a charge of homicide.
Deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said yesterday that the case in Taiwan’s judiciary is likely to be closed when an arrest warrant issued for the criminals becomes invalid 37 years and six months after the date of issue.
Although it is not achievable to bring the Philippine criminals before a Taiwanese court for questioning, they would be summoned to appear in Taiwan Pingtung District Court via a document to be delivered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, before the court issues an arrest warrant, Chen said.