MANILA, Philippines - Lawyers of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel accused in the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman at the Balintang Channel in May 2013 are contending that their clients have no case to answer as, essentially, no one was killed.
The defence lawyers last week filed a motion before a Batanes court seeking to dismiss the charges against the PCG men accused of killing Taiwanese fisherman Hong Shi Cheng, claiming that the prosecution did not have proof of Hong's death, including the death certificate and autopsy report from Taiwan.
Faced with such an "absurd" claim, the prosecution panel said it will file an opposition to the defence team's motion to quash on Monday when the accused will be arraigned before the Batanes Regional Trial Court.
'No proof of death'
"Our position is that we have all the forensic evidence needed to prove the death of Hong Shi Cheng, as in fact we have the original autopsy reports and original death certificate from Taiwan," said Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, who heads the prosecution panel.
In a motion filed on Aug. 27, seven of the accused-Seaman 2nd Class Nicky Reynold Aurello, Seamen 1st Class Endrando Aguila, Mhelvin Bendo II, Andy Gibb Golfo, Sunny Masangkay, Henry Solomon and PO2 Richard Corpuz-said the prosecution was unable to present proof "that he (Hong) is actually dead" during the preliminary investigation of the case.
The eighth accused, Coast Guard Commanding Officer Arnold de la Cruz, did not join the petition. He was arraigned on July 7 and entered a plea of not guilty.
"In terms of corpus delicti (body or substance of a crime), we have it, along with a host of other evidence. In other words, their argument that the prosecution will not be able to prove the death (of the fisherman) is absurd," Navera said in an interview.
"If nobody died, do you think there will even be a confrontation?" he said, referring to the angry reaction of the Taiwan government and the Taiwanese, with Taipei even threatening to impose economic sanctions on the Philippines.
The accused, who are out on bail for the criminal charges but under the administrative custody of the PCG, were charged with shooting Hong to death following a confrontation at the Balintang Channel off Batanes on May 9, 2013. Hong was said to be fishing within Philippine waters at the time.
While contending that the accused PCG men were only doing their duty, the Department of Justice found probable cause to indict them for homicide, saying they had used excessive force in shooting the Taiwanese.
Navera is aware of the peculiar situation of his team in a case of the state "prosecuting our own."
"In a way yes (it's awkward), especially because we know that they were just doing their duty at the time of the incident. But our position is that they exceeded their duty. While they were patrolling, they were doing their duty, but to fire indiscriminately after they first saw the fishing vessel, that was already an offence," he said.
Not a precedent
According to Navera, when the prosecution panel elevated the case to court, it aired a caution-that the case should not be used as a precedent in hindering Philippine authorities from its right to enforce the country's laws within its boundaries.
"We stressed in our resolution that this should not be a precedent. The facts of this case are so unique that our findings of probable cause will only apply to this case. So we also cautioned the Taiwanese authorities not to give any precedence to our findings," he said.
"In other words, our factual findings should not be binding on the Taiwanese authorities, so that every time an intruder or illegal fishing vessel is in our territory, they will be emboldened to fish in our waters," said Navera, adding that the Taiwanese side "understands our position that we are prosecuting our own."