DPA / Manila
A Philippine court yesterday found eight coastguard personnel guilty of homicide for the death of a Taiwanese fisherman in 2013, an incident which had strained relations between the two countries.
The coastguard personnel were sentenced to a minimum of eight years in prison and ordered to each pay nearly $2,000 in civil indemnity and moral damages.
The death of 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman Hong Shing Cheng, who was killed when the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) shot at his fishing boat, caused a rift between Manila and Taipei.
Taipei had temporarily stopped issuing visas for Filipino workers, but lifted the ban months later after the Philippine government apologised for the incident and criminal charges were filed against the coastguard personnel.
The PCG had contended that its personnel acted in self-defence when they opened fire at the fishing boat.
The personnel alleged that the Taiwanese fishing boat tried to ram their patrol ship as they were attempting to apprehend it for poaching off the coast of the Batanes islands.
“After sifting through the evidence presented, the court is convinced that the prosecution has been able to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide,” Judge Eduardo Ramons Reyes said in his decision. He cited the testimonies of a Taiwanese forensic official and a ballistics expert from the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation stating that bullets and slugs retrieved from the fishing boat matched the firearms recovered from the coastguard ship.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said yesterday that justice had finally been served, but the Taiwanese government would still closely monitor the case for possible appeals.
According to Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency, the late fisherman’s daughter Hung Tzu-chien said that she was not satisfied but accepted the decisions made by the Philippine court, quoting her as saying that “human life is priceless.”
Rodrigo Moreno, the lawyer for the coastguard officers, said they would be appealing the court decision and the accused will continue to be out on bail until the verdict is final. “Let us not forget the Taiwanese boat was stealing from the Philippines,” Moreno told reporters. “That is the bottomline, the PCG was protecting the Philippines from Taiwanese thieves.”
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