12:45 am | Monday, June 3rd, 2013
“Laughing” and “smiling” are completely different, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Sunday as it rejected the Inquirer’s report that six coast guards were seen in a video laughing as they fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat.
The Coast Guard took the video of the encounter between the coastal patrol vessel MCS-3001 and the Taiwanese fishing boat Guan Ta Hsin 28 in waters off Balintang Island in northern Philippines on May 9.
The video was submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for the investigation of the fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih-chen, 65, during the chase.
Cmdr. Armand Balilo, spokesperson for the Coast Guard, said Sunday he had seen the video and dismissed the Inquirer report as “inaccurate” and “hearsay.”
Malacañang and the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco), the Philippines’ de facto embassy in Taiwan, declined to comment on the Inquirer report.
The Palace, however, gave assurance that the outcome of the government investigation will be solely based on evidence.
The report was based on an interview by reporter Nancy C. Carvajal with a source who had seen the video and whose statements were confirmed by two other sources.
“The video showed the soldiers acted unprofessionally. They were laughing while they were shooting the boat,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
“It is disturbing and embarrassing for Philippine law enforcers,” the source said.
Balilo said there was no footage from the video that showed coast guards laughing while firing at the boat.
But “there is one crew member who’s seen in the video smiling at himself while firing a warning shot,” he said.
“Has (the Inquirer reporter) actually seen the video?” he asked.
According to Balilo, “laughing” and “smiling” are completely different. “As we all know, they do not have the same meanings,” he said.
Balilo said he was seriously concerned about the possible implications of the report.
Another Coast Guard official, who asked not to be named, said “the professionalism of our personnel is at stake here.”
The shooting death of Hung sparked a major diplomatic row between Taiwan and the Philippines.
Taiwan has demanded a government apology for the killing of Hung, compensation for the fisherman’s family, the punishment of the coast guards involved in the shooting, and the opening of fishery talks between the two countries.
To pressure the Philippines to comply, Taipei took retaliatory measures against Manila, including a freeze on new jobs for Filipino migrant workers and suspension of tourist travel to the Philippines.
President Aquino ordered the NBI to investigate the fatal shooting of Hung, but Malacañang on Sunday chose not to comment on the Inquirer report until after the NBI findings had been released.
“I understand that that particular story was being attributed to a source. At this point, we [do] not wish to make any comment until the final results of the investigation have been made public,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in an interview on state-run radio dzRB.
Valte cautioned the public against taking the reported contents of the video “at face value.”
Whatever the results of the NBI investigation, she said, “we can assure the public that they will be based solely on the evidence that was gathered and the evidence that was presented,” she said.
Antonio Basilio, Meco permanent representative, said he was not aware of the report on the video.
“What I know is that the NBI still has to complete its report and will not make it public until then. The Taiwan investigation team is similarly constrained to do so,” Basilio said.
No disclosure policy
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Sunday appealed to the media not to report prematurely any findings or even comments on the investigation until the government had released the official report.
De Lima said in a text message that the Philippine and Taiwanese investigators had agreed not to prematurely disclose their findings.
“The no-disclosure rule applies even to expressions of views or opinions from certain findings which might result in undue speculations, erroneous suppositions and premature conclusions on the part of the public,” De Lima said.
“I appeal once again to (the) media to honor (that) policy,” she said.
‘We’ll abide by it’
The Coast Guard has repeatedly said it would abide by the findings of the NBI inquiry into the May 9 incident.
Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, Coast Guard commander, said the agency was waiting for the results of the investigation.
“We will abide by the findings of the NBI,” he said. “If our men are found to have violated (the rules of engagement), then they would have to face the consequences of their actions.”
But “that would not stop us from going after illegal fishermen and poachers,” he added. “We are professionals and we will continue doing our job.”—With reports from TJ Burgonio and Christine O. Avendaño
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