Coast Guard men told to answer homicide charges
MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) has ordered Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel tagged in the fatal shooting of a suspected Taiwanese poacher in Balintang Channel last May to answer homicide charges filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera, chairman of the panel, said the respondents have until Sept. 30 to submit their respective counter-affidavits, adding that there would be no extension.
During a hearing on Monday, NBI deputy director for regional operations services Virgilio Mendez personally subscribed to the NBI’s complaint and evidence concerning the death of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng last May 9.
In its complaint filed last month, the NBI has sought the indictment for homicide of eight PCG men – Cmdr. Arnold de la Cruz, Petty Officer 2 Richard Corpuz, Seaman 2nd Class Nicky Aurello, and Seamen 1st Class Edrando Aguila, Mhelvin Bendo, Andy Gibb Golfo, Sunny Masangcay and Henry Solomon.
The NBI also filed charges for obstruction of justice against De la Cruz and Bendo along with SN1 Marvin Ramirez and LTJG Martin Bernabe for allegedly submitting tampered evidence to the NBI, including spliced video footage.
The four allegedly gave false information to the NBI on the number of bullets used during the shooting.
The NBI said there was conspiracy among the respondents. It noted that while Aguila was found to have fired the M14 rifle that killed the Taiwanese, the seven other PCG men had admitted discharging their weapons and would be similarly charged for homicide.
The DOJ panel started hearing the NBI complaint last Sept. 9 when three companions of the victim – Taiwanese Hong Yu Zhi and Hong Jie Zhang and Indonesian Imam Buchaeri – appeared and subscribed to their affidavits.
Respondents from PCG, represented by lawyer Rodrigo Moreno, had also asked the DOJ panel to inhibit from the preliminary investigation and instead forward the case to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Citing media reports, they alleged that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has prejudged the case, making the DOJ no longer an impartial venue for investigation.
But the DOJ panel rejected the motion, saying they are independent of De Lima’s statement, and that the preliminary investigation could not be transferred to the ombudsman.
The respondents filed a motion for reconsideration.