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Philippines possibly to charge against coast guard

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-06-14 09:03

MANILA - Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed on Thursday the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had recommended the filing of criminal and administrative cases against members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) involved in the killing of a Taiwan fisherman last month.

In a text message from Spain where she is attending the World Congress Against Death Penalty, de Lima confirmed that the PCG men involved in the incident may be held criminally and administratively liable, but she declined to state categorically what charges should be filed based on the recommendations of the NBI in its fact-finding report.

De Lima said the report has already been submitted to President Benigno Aquino III, who has the prerogative to either adopt it as it is, or subject it to another layer of review by his own legal team.

"I'm confirming that the NBI already submitted the report. I forwarded the report (to Aquino) before I left for Madrid. The NBI recommended the filing of criminal and administrative charges (but) I cannot disclose yet what exactly the charges had been recommended until it is disclosed by the president. So let's not preempt the reaction of the president," she said in a phone interview with reporters.

She also declined to comment on whether she agreed with the supposed NBI finding of a security lapse, unnecessary use of excessive force and violation of the rules of engagement on the part of the PCG.

"I cannot disclose yet the findings of the report. So if I keep answering those questions then I will be disclosing already the specifics of the findings... Until the president approves or adopts the report it would be improper to disclose it," she said.

De Lima however hinted that the NBI would make use of the murder complaint filed by the victim's daughter, Hung Tzu Chien, before the Pingtung prosecutor's office in Taiwan.

"If the filing of recommended criminal charges is approved, the NBI would need a private complainant, so that would be the daughter of the fisherman. The NBI is looking at it (murder charge) as a private complaint," she said.

A source at the bureau who requested anonymity said that NBI probers were able to establish at least one of the six elements of murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, specifically the fact that the Taiwan fishermen were unarmed at the time the coast guard fired at their vessel.

Investigators also claimed that the coast guard team might have violated the rules of engagement in allegedly using excessive force to drive away the supposed intruding fishermen, resulting in the death of Hung Shih-Cheng.

On May 9, PCG officers shot and killed 65-year-old Hung at sea 164 nautical miles southeast of Taiwan. The Philippine coast guard admitted later firing at the Taiwan fishing vessel.

Investigation teams respectively organized by Taiwan and the Philippines have completed "parallel investigations" on the incident.

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