Saturday, August 10, 2013

Taiwanese fishermen may face poaching charges in the Philippines

While Filipino coast guards face prosecution for the May 9 killing of a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman, his companions during the tragic sea chase may also be made to answer poaching charges.

National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Nonnatus Rojas said a poaching case may be filed against the three companions of Hung Shih-cheng – including his son –  depending on the recommendation of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Rojas said that based on the findings of an NBI fact-finding panel, the tragic sea chase happened within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and that the Coast Guard personnel “validly” exercised their duties.

“It is submitted that the enforcement action commenced by the PCG and the BFAR is in harmony with their mandate to protect the sovereign rights of the country regarding the utilization of the resources with its EEZ,” the NBI said in its 85-page report released on Wednesday.

The NBI said it asked the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) on May 21 to plot on a chart map the coordinates or location of the “cat and mouse” chase off Batanes.

The report said NAMRIA’s chief of Nautical Charting Division Commander Herbert Catapang categorically stated that “as far as their knowledge of the law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), concerning our territorial jurisdiction is concerned, these areas mentioned in the coordinates as plotted in the official nautical chart of NAMRIA are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.”

The digital plotting, the NBI added, was made using systems that are compliant with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) standards and “commonly used in nautical charting.”

“Considering the foregoing discussion and considering, further, that the location of where the shooting incident happened was not disputed by the Taiwanese fishermen, there is no doubt that the same is within the territory of the Republic of the Philippines,” the report said.

Seventeen Coast Guard personnel and three BFAR men were patrolling the Balintang channel on board Philippine patrol craft MSC-3001 when they encountered two Taiwanese fishing vessels.

PCG commanding officer Arnold de la Cruz told investigators the coast guards assumed the Taiwanese were poaching in Philippine waters because they carried no flags.

The Coast Guard vessel, according to the PCG official, steered toward the bigger vessel but the smaller Taiwanese boat “came near their path as if it intended to block their approach to the larger vessel.”

The PCG official said the Taiwanese vessel ignored warnings and even tried to ram the BFAR vessel, prompting the Coast Guard personnel to open fire.

De la Cruz said the shots were intended to disable the vessel.

The NBI said 105 rounds of ammunition had been discharged during the chase.

Facing homicide charges aside from De la Cruz are Petty Officer 2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz, Seaman 2nd Class Nicky Reynold Aurello, and Seamen 1st Class Edrando Quiapo Aguila, Mhelvin Bendo, Andy Gibb Ronario Golfo, Sunny Galang Masangcay, and Henry Baco Solomon.

The PCG submitted videos to prove its claim but the NBI said based on the footage, “the intent to ram is not clear given the perspective offered by the video and the fact that such maneuver could have been intended merely to escape.”

The NBI said the coast guard’s actions, which include the use of high-powered guns and indiscriminate firing, “are indicative of a common design to disregard the rules of engagement.”

“Any sensible and reasonable person is capable of discerning at that point that indiscriminate firing at a small fishing vessel will, in all likelihood, inevitably result not only in the disabling of the watercraft, but also in bodily harm or death,” the NBI explained.

Support vowed

The PCG leadership will stand by its men involved in the shooting, spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said yesterday.

Balilo said the prospect of long prison terms for the eight is hurting the morale of PCG personnel. - The Philippine Star

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