Case vs Coast Guard personnel involved in death of Taiwanese fisherman stays
The Manila City Regional Trial Court has refused to dismiss the homicide case against eight members of the Philippine Coast Guard involved in the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hong Shi-Cheng off the coast of Balintang Channel in 2013.
In a four-page order made public Wednesday, Manila RTC Branch 15 Presiding Judge Eduardo Ramon R. Reyes denied the “demurrer to evidence” filed by the accused, which include Commanding Officer Arnold E. Dela Cruz, Seaman 2nd class (SN2) Nicky R. Aurelio and Seamen 1st class (SN1s) Edrando Q. Aguila, Mhelvyn A. Bendo II, Andy Gibb R. Golfo, Sonny G. Masangkay, Henry B. Solomon, and Petty Officer 2 Richard F. Corpuz.
A demurrer to evidence is in effect a motion to dismiss the case filed by the accused after the prosecution finished its presentation of evidence.
The demurrer is anchored on the ground that the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient.
The accused said the prosecution failed to positively identify the accused in the death of Hong. Moreover, the evidence was mere circumstantial evidence and was unable to prove that there was a conspiracy.
The accused also alleged that the prosecution has suppressed evidence.
The prosecution argued that their evidence was “direct and irrefutable forensic evidence.” They denied suppressing evidence because it is their discretion to determine what to be presented in court.
The court ruled in favor of the prosecution, saying it presented Hong’s death certificate, the autopsy report, and photos.
“Further, it was established that accused, while patroling Balintang Channel, opened fire on the fishing vessel of the victim,” the court said.
The court added that it is not for the defense or the court to dictate upon the prosecution what evidence should be presented as evidence.
“Given the sufficiency of the testimonial and documentary evidence presented by the prosecution against the accused, it would be premature at this stage of the proceedings to conclude that the prosecution’s evidence failed to establish accused participation in the alleged conspiracy to commit the crime of homicide. Likewise, the court cannot, at this point, make a categorical pronouncement that the guilt of the accused has been proven beyond reasonable doubt,” the court said.
The court has set the presentation of evidence by the accused in December.
The court assured the parties that it “will keep an objective mind as it tries to unmask if the shooting is justified under the existing circumstances and the extent of participation of all the accused in the adverted shooting incident if any.”
The case was initially heard by Branch 13 of the Batanes RTC but the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the venue of the trial after the accused argued that if the trial is done in Batanes it would be burdensome not only to them but also to the prosecution considering the distance from Manila to the country’s northernmost province.
The respondents who were out on bail all pleaded not guilty during their arraignment, claiming they were only forced to fire at the Taiwanese fishing vessel in self-defense as it tried to ram the BFAR ship and refused to stop for boarding inspection despite repeated warnings.
They also claimed the Taiwanese were poaching in the country’s territorial waters at the time of the incident and were trying to flee when accosted by the BFAR patrol ship.
The incident has put a strain on the relationship between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Taiwan has stopped the issuance of visas to Filipinos who want to work in the country and put at risk the 80,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan.
The government then sent a representative and delivered the government’s official letter of apology to mend the strained relations. /ee
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