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Taiwan probers review video, inspect Phl vessel

Members of a Taiwanese probe team prepare to board the BFAR vessel MCS 3001 in Manila’s South Harbor yesterday. The vessel was carrying Philippine Coast Guard personnel involved in the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman last May 9. EDD GUMBAN

MANILA, Philippines - A day after their arrival, investigators from Taiwan finished inspecting yesterday the vessel that figured in a deadly confrontation with a Taiwanese fishing boat off Batanes last May 9.

It took the 12 Taiwanese investigators and forensic experts 80 minutes to inspect the vessel MCS 3001, owned by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Earlier yesterday, the group – led by Prosecutor Lin Yen Liang and Criminal Investigation Bureau-International Affairs Division chief Simon Lee – watched a two-hour video footage of the incident at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) headquarters in Manila.

In Taiwan, a team from the NBI also buckled down to work but was denied its request to perform a re-autopsy on the remains of 65-year-old fisherman Hung Shih-cheng.

NBI foreign liaison division chief Daniel Deganzo heads the NBI team in Taiwan.

They are expected to inspect the Taiwanese fishing vessel, Guang Ta Hsin 28 – currently moored in Kaohshiung port – today.

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The NBI team hopes to return to the country on Friday.

Hung was killed after his boat was fired upon by Philippine Coast Guard personnel on MCS 3001 at the Balintang Channel during a brief sea chase. The PCG personnel involved in the incident alleged that Taiwanese vessel Guang Ta Hsin-28 tried to ram their boat.

Commodore Eduardo Gongona, PCG fleet commander, accompanied the Taiwanese investigators during the inspection of the MCS 3001 at Pier 13, South Harbor in Manila. Gongona said the Taiwanese investigators went around MCS 3001 to check its exterior on a rubber boat.

“They inspected where the MCS 3001 was rammed – the scratches that reportedly resulted when their (fishing) vessel hit our ship,” Gongona said.

He said the Taiwanese investigators scraped off paint samples from MCS 3001.

The Taiwanese investigators also went below deck to inspect the armory as well as the gun mount. They also tested the ship’s siren.

“They had a ruler and measured if the firearms would fit in the armory. They also took pictures,” Gongona said.

The PCG earlier submitted 17 long firearms to the NBI.

The group also took a closer look at the deck and the pilothouse.

Gongona said the Taiwanese investigators did not ask them anything about the incident.

“Everything was transparent,” he said, adding that the Taiwanese were “cordial and nice.”

He said the work of the Taiwanese investigators “might be helpful for both sides for the truth to come out.”

‘Almost done’

Andrew Lin, diplomatic officer of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) who accompanied the Taiwanese team, told reporters the “video is very helpful” but declined to give details.

The Taiwanese investigators and their Filipino counterparts had agreed not to disclose preliminary findings so as not to undermine the progress of the separate but parallel probes.

NBI deputy director for regional operation services Virgilio Mendez said the Taiwanese team had already completed its ballistic examination of the high-powered firearms used, including eight M-16 rifles, six M-14 rifles and a machine gun.

“They’re almost done. The inspection of the vessel, examination of firearms and video showing have been completed,” he said in a separate interview.

Mendez said the Taiwanese are expected to next undertake some “clarificatory” questioning about the video as well as interviews with unnamed PCG personnel involved. The group is also set to interview today the BFAR personnel who witnessed the May 9 incident.

Art Abierra, secretary of the board of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), said the Taiwanese hope to finish the interviews today so they can promptly fly home.

In Taiwan, ministry of justice director Chen Wen-Chi said they cannot allow an exhumation of Hung’s remains in deference to the wishes of the victim’s family.

“(Re-autopsy) is not applicable to our domestic rule and of course by the victim’s family,” Chen said in an interview.

But she assured the NBI team they would be provided “relevant documents and report for their inspection.” She declined to give details.

“We can’t force the family to agree to a re-autopsy. The autopsy report is enough to come up with a concrete conclusion,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters in reaction to the development.

Impact on tourism

As a result of the diplomatic row with Taipei, the Philippines stands to lose $4.5 million monthly in canceled bookings and charter flights from Taiwan.

Most of the cancellations have hit the popular beach resort of Boracay, where Taiwanese visitors are the second largest group after South Koreans. In 2012, more than 90,000 Taiwanese visited the island.

The Department of Tourism said in reports published yesterday that at least 43 flights from May 20 to June 30 between Taiwan and Kalibo International Airport serving Boracay have been canceled.

Local budget carrier Zest Air Inc., partly owned by Philippines’ AirAsia Inc., confirmed last week that it temporarily suspended its daily charter service between Kalibo and Taipei at the request of the charter agent.

“The unfortunate death of the Taiwanese fisherman is currently under investigation by both governments of the Philippines and Taiwan. It is our hope that a resolution is reached at the soonest possible time,” Zest Air said in a statement.

Philippine Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, and Cebu Pacific continue to operate regular flights between Taiwan and the Philippines.

Taiwan also has cut trade and sports exchanges with the Philippines. With Evelyn Macairan, Rey Galupo, AP

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