MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine investigators recommended homicide charges Wednesday against eight coast guard personnel involved in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman, an incident that strained ties between the neighbors and highlighted their territorial dispute.
An investigation ordered by President Benigno Aquino III into the May 9 shooting in waters where the two sides’ exclusive economic zones overlap showed that the coast guard personnel were not in enough danger to justify firing on the fisherman’s boat, said National Bureau of Investigation Director Nonnatus Rojas.
Taiwanese officials said they were pleased with the investigation and would cancel sanctions they had imposed on Manila.
The coast guard personnel said they acted in self-defense when the Taiwanese vessel tried to ram their boat as they tried to stop it for allegedly poaching in waters off the Philippines’ northernmost islands.
Rojas said video footage used as evidence by the coast guard did not show any clear attempt to ram the patrol boat. “It is possible that the fishing boat merely intended to get away from the patrol craft and not ram it,” he said.
Those recommended to face homicide charges include the coast guard patrol’s commanding officer and seven of his men.
Rojas said separate charges of obstruction of justice would be filed against the commanding officer, his executive officer and two personnel for alleged tampering of evidence, including allegedly removing vital portions of a video recording of the incident they presented to investigators and submitting a falsified report on the amount of ammunition fired by the crew.
Philippine coast guard commandant Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena said the service respected the results of the investigation.
“We cannot do anything if that is their findings,” he said. “I said from the very start that our men will face whatever consequences of their actions.”
Reacting angrily to the killing, Taiwan’s government had demanded an official apology, compensation for the fisherman’s family and punishment for the coast guard crew. It also froze the hiring of Filipino workers and discouraged travel to the Philippines.
In Taipei, Taiwanese officials expressed satisfaction with the results of the Philippine probe and said they would cancel the sanctions applied against Manila.
“We are happy to see this incident settled in a peaceful way,” said Taiwanese Deputy Foreign Minister Joseph Shih. “We will withdraw our sanctions and look forward to friendly cooperation with the Philippines.”
Rojas disputed Taiwan’s claims that the area was part of its territory. He said that the incident 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 84-page report said the coast guard patrol “was conducting legitimate maritime enforcement where deadly force was wrongfully applied.”
Following Philippine legal procedures, Rojas said charges against the men would be filed with the national prosecution service, which will designate a panel to conduct a preliminary investigation. “It is up to the panel of prosecutors what charges will be filed in court … after determination of probable cause,” he said.
Associated Press writer Peter Enav in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.