May 272013


Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines-Justice Secretary Leila De Lima on Monday said she hopes that the parallel investigation conducted by the Philippines and Taiwan will repair the strained relations between Manila and Taipei.

“With the mutual or reciprocal visits of the Philippines and Taiwanese teams, it is expected that their respective separate investigations will be concluded soon and hopefully put closure to the factual issues surrounding the incident,” De Lima said in a statement.

“What is being demonstrated is the spirit of cooperation and openness between Philippines and Taiwanese authorities which can contribute to a significant degree, to the restoration of normalcy of PH-Taiwan relations,” she added.

With the death of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng last May 9, the country’s economic-cultural relation with Taiwan was strained, putting at risk the Filipino workers in Taiwan.

The NBI team is expected to stay in Taiwan for three days to inspect the fishing vessel and interview its crew but subject to adjustment as needed, said NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas.

On the other hand, Taiwanese probers are also in the country to conduct ballistic examination and inspect the vessel used by the Philippine Coast Guard.

The swap of teams of investigators followed weeks of acrimony over the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman.

A team of eight Philippine officials including experts from the NBI flew to the island and were promptly whisked away upon arrival at Taoyuan airport in the north.

“The (Philippine) visitors will have a look at the autopsy report on Hung Shih-cheng this afternoon,” a spokesman for Taiwan’s justice ministry told Agence France Presse.

Before leaving on Friday, the Filipino team will also inspect evidence from local prosecutors, visit the fishing boat, review voyage data records onboard the vessel and inspect ballistic evidence, the spokesman said.

Taiwan said its team in the Philippines would visit the coastguard vessel, inspect the guns used to fire on the vessel and review video footage.

The Philippines has claimed that the fishing boat intruded into its waters and that coastguards were forced to open fire when it tried to ram their vessel.

The Taiwanese authorities have released the boat’s voyage data record and insist that the ship was fishing within its exclusive economic zone when the shooting took place.

The zones claimed by the two sides overlap in some areas.

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou has termed the killing “cold-blooded murder” based on an initial inquiry report by Taiwan, which showed that the fishing ship was studded with more than 50 bullet holes and displayed no sign of having rammed the coastguard vessel.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has personally apologized for the incident but Taiwan has rejected his apology and introduced sanctions against the Philippines.

The measures include a ban on the hiring of new workers, recalling its envoy and staging a naval drill in waters off the northern Philippines.

Taipei has repeatedly pressed Manila to issue a formal government apology, to compensate the fisherman’s family and to apprehend the killer.

Philippine officials say the issue of a formal apology is complicated by the fact that Manila officially recognizes Beijing over Taipei.

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