DOJ recommends homicide charges vs Coast Guard men

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

EIGHT members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) will face homicide cases in court for the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hong shi-cheng off Batanes in May last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Tuesday.

Set to be charged with homicide are Commanding Officer Arnold Dela Cruz, Seaman 1st Class (SN1) Edrando Aguila, SN1 Mhelvin Bendo II, SN1 Andy Gibb Golfo, SN1 Sunny Masangcay, SN1 Henry Solomon, Seaman 2nd Class (SN2) Nicky Renold Aurello and Petty Officer 2 Fernandez Corpuz.

Dela Cruz and Bendo will also be charged with obstruction of justice for coming up with a falsified monthly gunnery reports to reflect a smaller amount of ammunition (36 rounds of ammunition instead of 108) used during the shooting.

Bernabe, Ramirez, Bendo and dela Cruz will not face obstruction of justice charges for allegedly tampering with evidence when they spliced eight video footage of the shooting incident.

The charges of homicide and obstruction of justice will be filed with the Batanes Regional Trial Court and the Cagayan Municipal Trial Court, respectively.

Hong was killed aboard the Guang Da Xing No. 28 due to a gunshot wound to the neck, which was caused by a bullet from a firearm traced as having been fired by Aguila.

The DOJ said it found no evidence to indicate or prove that the Taiwanese boat posed an imminent or grave danger to the Coast Guard men, who suspected the foreigners of poaching in Philippine waters.

"The respondents all acted in unison with the common purpose of firing at the Guang Da Xing No. 28 to force it to submit to MCS-3001's (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel) inspection or else," the resolution stated.

It added that complainant National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was able to establish that there was conspiracy when it "presented the fact that orders were given and the orders were obeyed and efficiently implemented with fatal consequences."

"That they all acted in conspiracy is crystal clear. When there is conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all," the DOJ said, adding the Coast Guard's argument of self-defense is better left threshed out in trial.

The NBI and Taiwan conducted parallel probe into the May 9, 2013 incident as respective teams gathered evidence and interviewed the crew of Taiwanese vessel and the ship manned by the PCG.

The incident strained relations between the Philippines and Taiwan, which imposed economic sanctions affecting more than 6,000 Filipinos whose contracts had not been renewed.

Still, the DOJ pointed out that the prosecution of Coast Guard personnel should not be construed as a "blank card" for Taiwanese fishermen to illegally enter and poach within the country's waters "with impunity."

The incident took place some 40 nautical miles from the country's baselines and within the Philippines' 200-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

"More importantly, this resolution should not weaken the resolve of the rest of the professional Coast Guard men who are doing their mighty best, despite limited resources, to carry on and strictly Philippine criminal laws within Philippine territory in accordance with established rules of engagement. This homicide case arose from a very peculiar set of facts and findings are pro hac vice (for this event) only," the resolution stated.

Assistant State Prosecutors Juan Pedro Navera, Alexander Suarez and Josie Christina Dugay prepared the resolution.

The PCG meanwhile said it will remain supportive to its officers and personnel involved in the Balintang Channel incident last year.

Commander Armando Balilo, PCG Public Affairs chief, said the agency will render its full support to the entire crew of the MCS-3001.

Balilo said that PCG chief Vice Admiral Rodolfo Isorena has already assured dela Cruz and seven of his men that the agency will give them all the financial or legal assistance they need.

"They can get all the assistance they needed, whether financial, legal or other matters. The commandant (Isorena) has assured them the agency’s full support," Balilo said. (With John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

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