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Eight Philippine Coastguardsmen Convicted of Murdering Fisherman

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By The Maritime Executive 2019-09-18 17:10:58

A court in Manila has returned a guilty verdict for eight Philippine Coast Guard members accused of shooting and killing a Taiwanese fisherman in 2013. 

The eight servicemembers - seamen Edrando Aguila, Mhelvin Bendo II, Andy Gibb Golfo,  Sunny Masangkay, Henry Solomon, Nicky Reynold Aurelio, petty officer Richard Corpuz and commanding officer Arnold Dela Cruz - allegedly collaborated to kill fishermen Hong Shi Cheng in a 2013 encounter near the Luzon Strait. 

Prosecutors and ballistics experts presented evidence that slugs found on board Cheng's vessel, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 (or Guang Da Xing No. 28), corresponded to the weapons aboard the coastguardsmen's patrol boat. Other crewmembers aboard the patrol boat testified that Dela Cruz ordered fire to disable the fishing vessel after it failed to respond to warning shots. 53 bullet trajectories were documented aboard the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 (below). 

The court ultimately sided with prosecutors, determining that it was possible to infer an intent to kill from Dela Cruz' decision to open fire and from the quantity of gunfire employed. 

"The concerted acts of the accused manifested their agreement to kill Hong Shi Cheng, resulting in each of them being guilty of the crime regardless of whether he actually fired at the victim or not,” Judge Eduardo Ramon R. Reyes wrote. "After sifting through the evidence presented, the Court is convinced that the prosecution has been able to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide."

Reconstructed ballistics trajectories viewed from above, Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28 (Taiwanese Ministry of Justice)

Reyes pronounced a sentence of 14 years' imprisonment and restitution fines of $2,000 per person. The accused are filing an appeal, and they have been released on bail pending the outcome of a higher court's decision. 

In a statement after the verdict, the defendants' lawyer asserted that the coastguardsmen were interdicting a foreign fishing vessel engaged in poaching at the time of the alleged crime. "Let us not forget the Taiwanese boat was stealing from the Philippines. That is the bottomline, the PCG was protecting the Philippines from Taiwanese thieves," counsel Rodrigo Moreno told Rappler. 

The Taiwanese government contests the boundary between its EEZ and that of the Philippines, and the area where the shooting occurred - a disputed region east of the Batanes Islands - is a perennial hotspot for confrontation between Philippine and Taiwanese interests. 

Thanks to a mutual criminal justice assistance treaty signed in 2012, Taiwanese investigators and ballistics experts played an important role in building the Philippine case against the eight coastguardsmen. In a statement Wednesday, Taiwan's Ministry of Justice said that Taiwanese law enforcement agencies "expressed sincere gratitude" for the trial's conclusion.