NBI off to Taiwan for shooting probe

Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It’s now the turn of Philippine investigators to go to Taiwan to gather evidence for their probe on the fatal shooting of a suspected Taiwanese poacher last May 9, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.

De Lima said Taipei has allowed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to get statements from the companions of slain fisherman Hung Shih-cheng as well as to examine their vessel.

She said an NBI team composed of agents from the agency’s foreign liaison division as well as forensic experts “will be leaving soon.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has jurisdiction over the NBI.

The team will also seek a re-autopsy of the remains of the victim – a procedure that would require approval from his family.

“We cannot announce the exact date and time because the NBI would not want to be disrupted by the media while completing their tasks there,” she said when asked for the specific date of the group’s departure for Taiwan.

But NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas said the team may leave today at the earliest.

De Lima said an investigation would determine whether the coast guard personnel involved in the incident could be held criminally liable. 

“More or less, we now have a substantive and clear picture of what really happened,” she said without elaborating.

She also described as “very revealing” video footage of the incident submitted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to the NBI.

Taipei’s allowing the NBI to inspect the fishing vessel and interview Hung’s companions came after the DOJ gave visiting Taiwanese investigators access to evidence gathered by local probers.

De Lima also stood firm on her earlier pronouncement that the May 9 incident “happened in Philippine waters.”

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Manila claimed the incident took place within overlapping exclusive economic zones of Taiwan and the Philippines. 

“Insofar as we are concerned, it happened in Philippine waters,” De Lima stressed. 

Easing tension

At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said tension with Taiwan has “subsided a little” because of continuous communication between the two sides.

Valte said Manila Economic and Cultural Office chairman Amadeo Perez had informed her of Taipei’s warm response to President Aquino’s expression of gratitude “for making sure that our citizens will be protected and that the attacks will not be repeated.”

“This was received well by the Taiwanese side and they said that they will ensure that no harm will come to our citizens there. So that is good news,” Valte said.

She declined to comment on details of the ongoing investigation into the May 9 incident. 

“The (NBI) report can be expected once the entire investigation is finished. I understand that they’ve already done substantial work but they do want to be able to inspect the fishing vessel in question,” Valte said in a press briefing.

“The investigation is very exhaustive and they’re looking at all factors that may be contributory, that may have any particular impact on the incident itself. So we will look into all of that,” Valte said.

She also said there had been no discussion on plans to seek help from other countries, particularly the United States, in resolving the diplomatic row with Taipei. 

“At this point, the investigative team is already doing its work,” Valte said.

Asked what the Philippines would do if Taiwan rejects the result of the NBI investigation, Valte said it’s “hypothetical at this point. Let’s cross the bridge when we get there.”

On repercussions of the incident like the cancellation of Taiwanese tour packages to the Philippines, Valte said “I understand that the DOT  (Department of Tourism) will concentrate on other markets or shift their focus.” “Of course, we’re hoping also that this will come to pass and that, moving forward, there will be resolutions of the ongoing tension,” she said.

Valte admitted the tour cancellations could affect the DOT’s targets for this year.  “This has an effect, primarily owing to the fact that they may be the fifth largest market for foreign arrivals in the country. But again, we’re hoping that there will be a resolution to some of the tension that we are seeing,” Valte said.  

Activists hold a protest rally in front of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Makati yesterday to demand protection for Filipino workers in Taiwan. EDD GUMBAN

Arrest illegal

In Vigan City, charges of illegal detention and coercion await policemen who rounded up 52 Taiwanese and Chinese nationals on suspicion they were engaged in cybersex operations.

Their lawyer Melbert Tolentino said they were picked up from Mom’s Courtyard hotel without arrest warrants and brought to the Bureau of Immigration office. 

However, the regional BI office based in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, refused to detain them because the police could not present warrants for their arrest.

Of the group, 12 were Chinese nationals. Earlier reports said the 52 were all Taiwanese.

Tolentino said the foreigners were determined to file charges as they had done nothing illegal during their stay in Vigan.

Information technology experts from Camp Crame and National Telecommunications Commission, meanwhile, searched Mom’s Courtyard Tuesday night for evidence of cybercrime activities.

Armed with a search warrant issued by Vigan City Judge Francisco Ante Jr., the team searched three buildings where the foreigners had stayed.

A Vigan police investigator who declined to be named said the search team found evidence that could indicate possible cybercrime operations.

He said Vigan police chief Superintendent Maximo Taclas had requested for technical personnel so they could credibly report on possible cybercime operations at the hotel.

“We recovered routers, servers, and telephone units (during the search),” the investigator said. 

He said no desktops were found during the search, but he surmised the suspects might have been using laptops in their operation.

Also found in each of the more than 50 cubicles occupied by the foreigners were pencils and papers containing numbers, he said.  

He said the technical personnel in the search team had expressed belief the foreigners were into online betting or were engaged in illegal tapping of phone lines. 

In Manila, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima ordered his men to ensure that all foreigners – particularly Taiwanese – are protected. 

“If any group will do wrong to anyone or to our visitors/tourists, we will apply the full force of the law. We protect everyone regardless of their nationality,” PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said.  The PNP chief’s directive came amid reports of violence against Filipinos in Taiwan.

Police have yet to receive any report of assault against Taiwanese nationals in the country.

Meanwhile, a former ranking military official said Taiwan is making noises and is using emotions to push for a fishing agreement with the Philippines.

“At the end of the day, what they want is a fishing concession. They want to poach legally in our waters,” the former official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

“They are capitalizing on the issue to place us on the defensive side. Eventually, they will seek concessions,” he said.

He said Taiwanese fishermen may be in cahoots with some local officials who grant them permits – possibly for a fee.

He said some Taiwanese poachers who were caught by authorities were freed after presenting permit issued in the Philippines.

The source said poachers would also borrow permits from some Filipinos so they can freely continue their activities.

The former official said the incident should prod the government to beef up its presence in the country’s maritime borders.

“These areas are the areas that we tend to neglect,” he said. – Aurea Calica, Alexis Romero, Teddy Molina, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Charlie Lagasca

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