Taiwanese investigators quit shooting probe, calling Philippine officials 'dishonest'

Joint investigation abandoned as Taiwanese call Philippine officials 'capricious and dishonest'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 May, 2013, 6:12am

Taiwanese investigators yesterday described their Philippines counterparts as "capricious and dishonest" in their dealings with them over the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine coastguard.

Meanwhile, as concern over the incident spread to Beijing and Washington, the Global Times - a hawkish affiliate of People's Daily - called on the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau to join Taiwan's boycott of the Philippines, possibly through tourism and trade.

The 17 Taiwan investigators, led by Chen Wen-chi, a senior justice ministry official, returned to Taipei yesterday empty-handed a day after arriving in Manila for what was originally meant to be a joint investigation over whether the coastguard intentionally killed the fisherman aboard an unarmed Taiwanese fishing boat.

"The Philippine authorities agreed to hold a joint probe into the shooting case, but their attitude became capricious and dishonest after we arrived in Manila," Chen said at a Taoyuan International Airport.

After a fruitless wait, they decided to return to Taipei, Chen said, showing reporters a letter signed by a Philippine representative, welcoming Taiwan's involvement in a joint probe with Philippine authorities.

Hung Shih-cheng, 65, was shot dead by a Philippine coastguard officers on May 9, while his 15-tonne trawler was fishing in waters where the "exclusive economic zones" claimed by both two sides overlap.

The coastguard later insisted the shooting was an act of self-defence within Philippine territorial waters against what they described as "bad guys". They claimed the fishing boat was trying to sink their patrol vessel, which was 10 times heavier than the Taiwanese boat.

An angry Taiwan later took 11 retaliatory measures against the Philippines. These included halting the hiring of Filipino workers, imposing barriers to tourism, recalling its envoy from Manila and demanding that the Philippines representative also return home.

Manila later apologised but insisted that the shooting case was an "unfortunate and unintended" incident, a statement sternly rejected by Taiwan, which said it could "acknowledge" the apology, but could never accept the way the Philippines said it was an "unintended" incident.

Noting that there were at least 50 bullet holes in the fishing boat, most of them around the wheelhouse where Hung and three other crew members hid, Chen said: "It clearly shows that the Philippine law enforcers were intentionally shooting at crew members, which indicates their intent of murder."

But Ricky Carandang, a spokesman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino, was quoted as saying that "there is an investigation ongoing so any premature statements that tend to confuse the issues and inflame passions should be avoided".

On Friday, the Manila Bulletin quoted a Philippine National Bureau of Investigation "insider" saying that the coastguard's official report on the case showed signs that "some particular provisions of the coastguard rules of engagement have been violated", including the use of excessive gunfire. The bureau is expected to submit the first part of its investigation this week.

The diplomatic row has raised concern in the US, which urged both sides to remain calm while they resolved the matter. Beijing condemned the Philippines for the shooting.

Taipei has also brought the case to the attention of international media.

In a commentary yesterday titled "Chinese need to unite against provocation", the Global Times said: "Mainlanders can join the Taiwanese in suspending tourist trips to the Philippines. Meanwhile, the mainland can slow down imports from the Philippines and cut at least one or two import items.

"We call on people in Hong Kong and Macao to join this joint action against the Philippines. This will make a special contribution to both protection of sovereignty and social solidarity among the Chinese people.