Investigators call for coastguard to face charges

Philippine president to consider criminal action over deadly clash with Taiwanese fishing boat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 4:50am


Philippine investigators said yesterday they had recommended criminal charges be filed against coastguards involved in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters.

The announcement follows weeks of high tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines, after coastguard chiefs in Manila initially insisted the fishing vessel had tried to ram the coastguard boat and their personnel had fired in self-defence.

"The NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) has recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges against the Philippine coastguard personnel," Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

De Lima said she could not disclose the specific charges pending clearance from President Benigno Aquino, whose office is reviewing the recommendation and will decide what action to take.

The May 9 incident occurred in waters near a Philippine island that Taiwan also claims as part of its economic zone.

A 65-year-old Taiwanese fishermen was killed when the Philippine coastguard opened fire on the vessel he was crewing with his son and two others.

The Philippine coastguard said initially the fishing boat intruded into its waters, and its personnel were forced to open fire when it tried to ram their vessel.

The coastguard also said immediately after the incident that it had nothing to apologise for.

The killing caused outrage in Taiwan, with President Ma Ying-jeou describing it as "cold-blooded murder".

His government ordered a freeze on the hiring of Filipinos to work in Taiwan, issued a "red-alert" warning tourists against travelling to the Philippines and staged naval drills near Philippine waters.

Aquino repeatedly apologised and sent an envoy to Taiwan, but these actions were rejected as insincere. Following pressure from Taiwan, the Philippines agreed to joint investigations into the incident.

Taiwanese authorities were allowed to visit the Philippines, inspect the ship and interview the coastguard personnel involved.

The Taiwan investigators concluded that two guns were used in the attack, including an M14 rifle that fired the fatal shot, the Central News Agency reported on June 1.

It said Taiwan had also identified the coastguard officer who fired at the vessel.

Adding to the anger in Taiwan, authorities said the fishing boat had 50 bullet holes in it and there were no marks consistent with it ramming the coastguard vessel.

A spokesman for Aquino said yesterday the president's office had received the report from the justice department.