Court orders 8 Philippine coast guard personnel arrested in killing of Taiwanese fisherman

By on April 23, 2014

Shutterstock photo
Shutterstock photo

MANILA, Philippines – A court has ordered eight Philippine coast guard personnel to be arrested on a homicide charge in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman last year.

The order by the Regional Trial Court in northernmost Batanes province was dated April 7, and it was made public Tuesday by the Department of Justice without an explanation for the delay.

The judge set bail at 40,000 pesos ($899). Coast guard spokesmen were unreachable and it was unclear if any of the accused had been arrested or posted bail.

Government prosecutors filed the charges last month after rejecting allegations by the coast guard crew members that they fired at the Taiwanese fishing boat in self-defence. Prosecutors said there were no indications that the fishing boat posed any danger to the crew during the May 9, 2013, encounter.

Those accused were the commanding officer of the coast guard patrol, Arnold Enriquez dela Cruz, and seven of his men. Dela Cruz and another crew member face a separate charge of obstruction of justice for allegedly tampering with a report on the number of ammunition discharged.

A video showed several of the men sporadically firing automatic rifles at the fishing boat as they chased the vessel. The coast guard then said the Taiwanese refused to stop for inspection and sped away after allegedly poaching in Philippine waters.

The killing angered the Taiwanese government, which demanded an apology, punishment and compensation for the fisherman’s death. It also froze the hiring of Filipino workers and discouraged travel to the Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino III ordered an investigation and later apologized but Taiwan objected to his saying that the killing was unintentional.

Taiwanese officials later expressed satisfaction with the results of the Philippine investigation and said they would cancel the sanctions applied against Manila.

The National Bureau of Investigation concluded the coast guard personnel were liable for the death of the Taiwanese fisherman.

However, then bureau Director Nonnatus Rojas disputed Taiwan’s claims that the area where the shooting occurred was part of its territory. He said that it happened well within the country’s exclusive economic zone, “where the Philippines exercises jurisdiction and fisheries law enforcement,” and that the coast guard patrol was lawful.

His report said the coast guard patrol “was conducting legitimate maritime enforcement where deadly force was wrongfully applied.”