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8 Coastguards draw prison term for Taiwanese slay

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A Manila City Regional Trial Court on Wednesday convicted eight Philippine Coast Guard personnel for opening fire and killing Taiwanese fisherman Hong Shih Cheng in the Balintang Channel off the coast of Batanes in May 2013.

LEGAL CONSULTATION. Philippine Coast Guard personnel found guilty of killing a Taiwanese fisherman in 2013 confer with their lawyer before leaving the Manila Regional Trial Court on Wednesday. The eight were allowed to post bail since they would still file an appeal before the Court of Appeals. Norman Cruz

Judge Eduardo Ramon Reyes of RTC Branch 15 ruled that the prosecution did not present direct evidence to prove who killed the Taiwanese.

But he said it presented circumstantial evidence “sufficient to prove the guilt beyond reasonable doubt of Commander Arnold Enrique dela Cruz, Seamen 1st Class Edrando Quiapo Aguila, Mhelvin Aguilar Bendo II, Andy Gibb Ronario Golfo, Sunny Galang Masangkay and Henry Baco Solomon, Seaman 2nd Class Nickey Reynold Aurellio and Petty Officer 2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz.

The eight Filipino crewmen claimed they had shot in self-defense after the fisherman’s vessel sailed directly at them in the seas just north of Luzon.

Judge Reyes convicted the men of homicide and sentenced them to a minimum of eight years in prison, though they will be allowed to remain free while they appeal.

“We are filing a notice of appeal so that what we perceived as errors of the trial court will be thrashed out,” Paul Jomar Alcudia, one of the lawyers of the officers, told AFP.

Taipei welcomed the court verdict.

“Justice has been served,” Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement Wednesday.

The killing caused a deep rift between the Asian neighbors, with then Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou describing it as “cold-blooded murder.”

After the fatal shooting, Taiwan ordered a freeze on the hiring of Filipino workers, warned its tourists against traveling to the Philippines and staged naval drills near its sea border with Manila.

Then Philippine President Benigno Aquino repeatedly apologized for the killing and sent an envoy to Taiwan, but these actions were rejected as insincere.

An agreement was subsequently put in place to avoid using force in fishing disputes to avoid similar incidents.

Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo said while they respect the court’s decision, it may “disappoint” some personnel. With AFP

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