MANILA, Philippines - The eight personnel of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) involved in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman in May last year have appealed their indictment in court.
In a 22-page motion, they asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reconsider its earlier finding of probable cause for homicide and obstruction of justice for the death of suspected poacher Hung Shih-cheng.
Commanding officer Arnold Enriquez de la Cruz and his seven men reiterated it was "in self-defense as there was an attempt to ram (the patrol vessel) by the Taiwanese fishing vessel."
"The actions of the respondents were consistent with the regular performance of their legal duty and in accordance with PCG 2012 rules of engagement in the conduct of maritime law enforcement operations," the PCG men argued in the appeal filed through lawyer Paul Jomar Alcudia.
They also stressed the pieces of evidence cited by the DOJ were "hearsay and/or inadmissible," citing the lack of proof of death submitted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in its complaint.
"Any allegations of conspiracy are negated by the non-inclusion of BFAR personnel also aboard the (patrol vessel) among those charged with homicide. The singling out of the respondents is a case of selective persecution rather than of prosecution," added the motion.
Charged with homicide with De la Cruz before the Batanes regional trial court were Seamen 1st Class (SN1) Edrando Aguila, Mhelvin Bendo II, Andy Golfo, Sunny Masangcay and Henry Solomon; SN2 Nicky Aurello; and Petty Officer 2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz.
De la Cruz and Bendo were also indicted separately for obstruction of justice charges before the Cagayan Valley RTC.
They were accused of falsifying two monthly gunnery reports submitted by the PCG to the NBI.
They also appealed the findings of the DOJ panel led by Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro on this second case.
“The prosecution panel erroneously omitted and/or chose to disregard evidence showing that there was no intention to mislead on the part of respondents de la Cruz and Bendo in preparing two gunnery reports,” they reiterated.
In its 79-page resolution last month, the DOJ dismissed the claim of the PCG men that they were forced to fire at the Taiwanese fishing boat after it tried to ram the Filipino vessel.
The incident occurred on May 9 last year at the Balintang Channel off the islands of Batanes.
The shooting triggered a bilateral crisis and led Taipei to impose sanctions on Manila and demand corrective action.
Since then, Manila has agreed to have its coast guard personnel avoid the use of force against Taiwanese fishermen in disputed waters and to follow procedures in accordance with international maritime law when detaining such vessels.
With the indictment of the eight PCG personnel, Taiwan has said its demands have been met and satisfied.
Taipei and Manila have already reached a consensus on cooperation in law enforcement in the disputed waters, which Taiwan hopes will be enshrined in an agreement before the fishing season begins later this month.
The two sides have established an emergency hotline to notify each other in the event of fishery disputes or incidents.
Benjamin Ho, director general of the Taiwan’s Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said last month that Taipei hoped the agreement could be signed on or around April 10.
Taiwan hopes that after the agreement is signed, both sides could negotiate another fishery agreement following the model of the Taiwan-Japan fishery pact.
Under the Taiwan-Japan agreement, Taiwanese and Japanese fishermen are allowed to freely operate in a jointly controlled provisional sea zone around the Japan-controlled Senkaku islands, known as Diaoyu in China and as Tiaoyutai in Taiwan. – Kyodo