DOJ summons witnesses in Taiwanese fisherman's shooting

by Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Sep 01 2013 11:32 AM | Updated as of Sep 01 2013 07:32 PM

MANILA - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has summoned witnesses from Taiwan in its preliminary investigation on the criminal charges to be filed against 10 Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel involved in the fatal shooting of a suspected Taiwanese poacher in Balintang channel last May.

The investigating panel of prosecutors issued subpoenas to Hong Yu Zhi, Hong Jie Zhang and Imam Buchaeri, the three companions of victim Hung Shih-cheng aboard the fishing vessel during the incident.

The three – classified as “offended parties and witnesses” in the case – were asked to appear before the DOJ in the first hearing on Sept. 9 at 2 p.m.

The DOJ asked the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) to serve the summons to the subjects through the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO).

In its two-page letter attached to the subpoenas sent to MECO chairman Amado Perez last Tuesday, the DOJ explained that the presence of the three would be necessary for them to “subscribe and swear to their affidavits” in compliance with rules.

“In the interest of substantial justice and procedural due process, we respectfully request the assistance of your good office to serve our attached subpoenas and notices to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines for the same office to serve them to the above-named persons in Taiwan,” reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The STAR.

An insider explained that TECO’s action would be crucial in the DOJ’s investigation on the homicide and obstruction of justice charges against the PCG men.

“This may be a sensitive issue considering the government’s one-China policy,” the reliable source explained.

The STAR, however, learned that the Taiwanese government has already manifested to Philippine authorities its willingness to cooperate in the DOJ probe.

The source said Taiwanese officials would arrive to observe in the hearing. Members of the family of the victim might also attend the proceedings.

The respondents in the charges have already been summoned by the investigating DOJ panel.

They were ordered to appear in the same hearing to be held at the DOJ multi-purpose hall and submit respective counter-affidavits to charges of homicide and obstruction of justice filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) last Aug. 14.

In its referral-complaint, the bureau has sought the indictment for homicide of eight PCG men identified as Commander Arnold de la Cruz, Petty Officer 2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz, Seaman 2nd Class Nicky Reynold Aurello, and Seamen 1st Class Edrando Quiapo Aguila, Mhelvin Bendo, Andy Gibb Ronario Golfo, Sunny Galang Masangcay, and Henry Baco Solomon.

The NBI also filed charges for obstruction of justice against De la Cruz and Bendo along with SN1 Marvin Ramirez and LTJG Martin Bernabe for allegedly submitting tampered evidence to the NBI, including “spliced” video footage.

The four allegedly gave false information to the NBI on the number of bullets discharged during the shooting.

According to the bureau, there was a conspiracy among the respondents. It explained that while it was Aguila who was found to have fired the M14 rifle that killed the Taiwanese, the seven others had admitted discharging their weapons and thus would be similarly charged for homicide.

The NBI earlier cleared nine other coast guard personnel and three crewmembers of the MCS-3001.

The complaint was filed with the DOJ last Tuesday afternoon.

Justice Sec. Leila de Lima said a panel of state prosecutors would be constituted to conduct preliminary investigation on the charges. If probable cause is established, the DOJ would then file the case in court. The crime of homicide is punishable by imprisonment of 12 to 20 years under the Revised Penal Code.

In its report, the NBI said indiscriminate firing using high-powered guns showed “a common design to disregard the rules of engagement.”

“Any sensible and reasonable person is capable of discerning at that point that indiscriminate firing at a small fishing vessel will, in all likelihood, inevitably result not only in the disabling of the watercraft, but also in bodily harm or death,” the NBI report added.

It was also found that the PCG personnel violated the rules of engagement when they shot at the Taiwanese vessel even if “there was no categorical proof that the fishing boat posed an imminent or grave threat to the lives of those on board the Philippine patrol craft.”

The fisherman was with his son and two others when they encountered the Filipinos who were on MCS-3001.

The PCG men had initially said they fired in self-defense after the Taiwanese boat tried to ram their vessel, but investigators said they could find no proof of this.

The NBI stressed that the PCG men failed to prove their claim that the Taiwanese boat tried to ram their vessel since the video footage submitted during fact-finding probe was “inconclusive.”