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Philippines May File Homicide Charges in Taiwan Fishing Case

Nonnatus Rojas, director of National Bureau of Investigation, holds up a folder containing a report on the May 9 incident where Philippine coast guard men opened fire on a Taiwan fishing boat, resulting in the death of one fisherman, in Manila on August 7, 2013. Photographer: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images
Nonnatus Rojas, director of National Bureau of Investigation, holds up a folder containing a report on the May 9 incident where Philippine coast guard men opened fire on a Taiwan fishing boat, resulting in the death of one fisherman, in Manila on August 7, 2013. Photographer: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images

Aug. 8 (Bloomberg) -- The Philippines recommended homicide charges be laid against eight of its coast guard members over the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed seas, as Taiwan officials indicated economic ties would soon be restored.

Four people -- two of the 17-member coast guard boat crew and two others -- may also be charged with obstructing justice over spliced video evidence, National Bureau of Investigation Director Nonnatus Rojas told reporters in Manila yesterday. Taiwan justice ministry officials called on the Philippines to charge and bring the men to trial promptly.

Amadeo Perez, chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, plans to visit Taiwan today to convey an apology to the fisherman’s family on behalf of Philippine President Benigno Aquino, Yin Wei, a spokesman for the ruling Kuomintang party, said by phone, citing comments by President Ma Ying-jeou.

The May 9 shooting death of 65-year-old fisherman Hung Shih-cheng by the crew of the Philippine vessel soured ties. Ma recalled his representative from the Philippines, froze the hiring of workers from the country to protest the killing and rebuffed an earlier apology from Aquino over the incident. Taiwan later held military exercises in the area.

“The Philippines would not have recommended the charges without basis, even if it was under pressure from Taiwan to ensure there was a liability,” Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University, said by phone. “Allowing the prosecution of coast guard men is a way for the Philippines to say it’s willing to take responsibility, renew ties and reverse tensions with Taiwan.”

‘No Justification’

The Philippine investigation was one of four demands made by Ma’s administration after the confrontation. Others included a formal apology, compensation and punishment of the perpetrators.

“There was no conclusive justification for the use of deadly force against the fishing boat,” the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation said in a separate statement yesterday. Members of the Hung family who survived the incident had said the hail of gun fire they encountered was unprovoked.

Rojas added the coast guard crew failed to prove their claims the Taiwan fishing boat tried three times to ram them.

Taiwan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Joseph Shih told reporters in Taipei yesterday his ministry would recommend that economic sanctions on the Philippines be lifted. “We hope the Philippines will charge these people as soon as possible,” Shih said.

Disputed Waters

Taiwan employers hadn’t renewed contracts for about 10,000 Filipinos, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office said July 9, while 77,000 workers from the country remained in Taiwan.

The Hung family said they would be willing to accept an apology as their vessel, the Guang Da Hsin 28, headed back to sea for the first time since the incident, the Central News Agency reported Aug. 5.

Homicide charges were recommended instead of murder because the incident was “unplanned and unpremeditated” with the Philippine vessel on patrol at the time, the Philippines’ investigation bureau said.

Rojas said the shooting occurred “well within” the Philippines’ economic zone. The Hungs were within a 200-nautical-mile area representing Taiwan’s fishing territory, the island’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Maritime Mechanism

Taiwan and the Philippines in June held preliminary talks on a mechanism for law-enforcement operations at sea, including a ban on the use of force, mutual notification of any arrests and the release of detained fishermen and boats. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said authorities are discussing further meetings.

Taiwan’s goal is to sign an agreement with the Philippines similar to the accord it reached with Japan on April 10, which gives fishermen access to Japanese-administered waters near islands also claimed by China, Ma said in a July 25 interview.

“We are eager to restore relations as soon as possible, because, prior to this event, relations were quite friendly,” Ma said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Debra Mao in Taipei at dmao5@bloomberg.net; Joel Guinto in Manila at jguinto1@bloomberg.net; Norman P. Aquino in Manila at naquino1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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