THE Manila regional trial court yesterday convicted eight Philippine Coast Guard personnel of the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman off Balintang Channel in May 2013.
Branch 15 Judge Eduardo Ramon Reyes convicted Coast Guard Cmdr Arnold dela Cruz, SN2 Nicky Aurelio, SN1 Edrando Aguila, SN1 Mhelvyn Bendo II, SN1 Andy Gibb Golfo, SN1 Sonny Masangkay, SN1 Henry Solomon and PO2 Richard Corpuz of homicide.
They were sentenced to a maximum 14 years imprisonment, and were ordered to pay P50,000 in civil indemnity and P50,000 in moral damages.
They were charged with shooting to death Taiwanese Hong Shi Cheng off the coast of Batanes and Babuyan Islands.
The PCG personnel all pleaded not guilty during their arraignment as they claimed they were only forced to fire at the Taiwanese fishing vessel in self-defense after it tried to ram their Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship and refused to stop for boarding inspection despite repeated warning.
They also claimed the Taiwanese were poaching in the country’s territorial waters at the time of the incident and were trying to flee when accosted by the BFAR patrol ship.
Out on bail
The lawyer for the PCG men said they will appeal the Manila court ruling.
“Accordingly, this judgment is not yet final. We would file a notice of appeal at the CA (Court of Appeals). And we would ask the court (Manila regional trial court) to allow the accused to be out on bail while the appeal is pending,” Atty. Rodrigo Moreno said.
“He is gracious enough to grant it. So the accused would remain on temporary liberty under the current bail bond,” he continued.
Albeit they respect the lower court decision, Moreno said the camp of the PCG men was disappointed with the ruling, prompting them to bring the case to the appellate court.
“With all due respect to the court, we went through the process but we don’t agree with the finding so we would exhaust the process,” Moreno said.
“Let us not forget the Taiwanese boat was stealing from the Philippines. That is the bottomline. The PCG was protecting the Philippines from the Taiwanese thieves,” he added.
The Government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) welcomed the conviction of the eight PCG personnel.
“The Government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) welcomes the verdict, and expresses its gratitude and respect to the Philippine judicial system,” it said.
“Today, the long-awaited justice in this shooting incident was served, but it was a hard and a bitter experience for both countries,” it said.
Following the verdict, Taiwan stressed “we now have to move on from this tragic incident, and determine how to further enhance the bilateral relationship between our two countries.”
To prevent another similar incident, both countries in 2015 signed a Fisheries Law Enforcement Agreement that has helped boost bilateral cooperation in fisheries law enforcement matters.
Since then, annual technical meetings are held between both sides to avoid any conflict again in the future.
With Cristina Lee-Pisco