Philippine coast guards face homicide charges over Taiwanese fisherman's death

MANILA - Philippine Justice Department investigators said on Wednesday they were recommending homicide charges against eight Filipino coast guard personnel for the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman in May.

"These eight Philippine Coast Guard personnel were the ones who have admitted to have fired their firearms," leading to the death, said Nonnatus Rojas, head of the department's National Bureau of Investigation.

"The NBI report recommends that criminal charges of homicide be filed against these eight PCG personnel," said Mr Rojas.

He said the criminal complaint would be lodged before the state prosecutor's office.

Under Philippine law, the prosecutor will then determine whether there is enough evidence to take the case to court.

If convicted, the eight could face 12 to 20 years in jail for homicide, Mr Rojas said.

Among the eight to be charged are the commanding officer Arnold dela Cruz and seaman first class Edrano Aguila, who was found to have fired the M14 rifle that killed the Taiwanese.

However since all eight admitted firing guns, they would all face the same charge under the principle that they acted in "conspiracy", Mr Rojas told reporters.

Nine other coastguards who were on the same vessel, as well as three fisheries bureau personnel with them, will not be charged, he said.

The incident occurred on May 9 in waters near a Philippine island that Taiwan also claims as part of its economic zone.

A 65-year-old Taiwanese fishermen was killed when the coast guards opened fire on the small fishing vessel he was crewing with his son and two others.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino had repeatedly apologised for the incident that caused a rift with Taiwan.

Taiwan's government has rejected the apologies as insincere. Nevertheless it agreed to send its own team to carry out a parallel investigation into the case.

The coast guards had initially said they fired in self-defence after the Taiwanese boat tried to ram their vessel but the investigators said they could find no proof of this.

A crewman used his personal video camera to capture the alleged incident but Mr Rojas said it was "inconclusive".

"The video failed to prove the attempted ramming," he said, adding "the intent to ram is not clear."

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