Chinese claims immunity

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Gun used in Cebu shooting has ‘twin’ in Manila

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Two Chinese diplomats being held over a gun attack that killed two of their colleagues and wounded another have immunity from prosecution and would be turned over to a security team that would come over from Beijing, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday.

Chinese Embassy officials in Manila were unavailable for comment.

China’s Consul-General in Cebu, Song Ronghua, survived a shot in the neck but two of his staff members–deputy consul Sun Shan and finance officer Hui Li–died during the lunchtime attack in a private room of the Lighthouse Restaurant on General Maxilom (Mango) Avenue in downtown Cebu on Wednesday, police said.

Sun and Hui were pronounced dead at the hospital. Consul-General Song, meanwhile, is in stable condition. Song assumed the Cebu post only last September.

Police said an argument broke out in the middle of a birthday celebration, which was followed by bursts of gunfire.

Security camera footage showed that suspect Li Qing Ling was holding a gun when Hui who was in front of him fell to the ground. He placed the gun on the table. His wife, Gou Jing, who is a member of the consular staff, then took the gun before leaving the restaurant. The couple were later arrested at the Chinese consulate in Cebu City.

Chief Supt. Prudencio Bañas, chief of the Central Visayas Police Regional Office, said DFA diplomatic security officials from Manila took custody of the suspects who would be turned over to the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

Vienna Convention
DFA spokesman Charles Jose also on Thursday said the couple were both accredited Chinese diplomats.

“Custody will be given to the Chinese side and they [suspects]will undergo legal process in China,” Jose told reporters.

He said China had already invoked diplomatic immunity as its right under the United Nations’ Vienna Convention.

Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations and the 2009 Consular Agreement between the Philippines and China, diplomats are immune from criminal jurisdiction in the receiving or host-state.

Once turned over to China, the suspects will be tried under Chinese law, which can sentence Li and Gou to death if they are found guilty of murder.

China imposes the death penalty, while the Philippines does not.

“That’s why the Chinese government likes to take custody of them, [for the suspects to]undergo the Chinese legal procedure,” Jose said.

He added that the Chinese Embassy in Manila and the Consulate-General in Cebu City are coordinating with Philippine authorities in investigating the crime.

In a statement released before briefing reporters, Jose said those involved in the shooting were “all members” of the Chinese consulate in Cebu.

Positions held by the two suspects at the consulate remained unclear, however. A newspaper report had identified the female suspect as connected with the consulate’s visa section.

But the DFA statement then said, “The shooting was an extreme act of a relative of a staff of the consulate general.”

In his comments to reporters, Jose did not clarify their positions and said authorities still
did not know why the shooting took place.

But he said the suspects could not waive their right to diplomatic immunity to try to remain in the Philippines.

“Having diplomatic immunity, only [their]government can waive[their]right and [their]government has already invoked diplomatic immunity,” Jose noted.

Persona non grata
An international law expert who requested anonymity told The Manila Times that not all diplomats are immune from criminal prosecution.

“It depends on the rank of the diplomats… and in any event, the DFA can always kick them out by having them declared persona non grata,” he said.

“And assuming they are immune, as I said, the DFA can have them ejected from the country as persona non grata.”

The legal expert added that “the Chinese themselves can waive immunity.”

Two guns
Investigators said ownership of the gun used in the shooting was traced to a Filipino resident in Valenzuela City (Metro Manila).

In a news briefing in Camp Crame in Quezon City, Philippine National Police spokesman and Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said the serial number of the pistol found at the crime scene was traced to the firearm’s license under the name of Theodore Calavera. A team went to Calavera’s house and discovered that the firearm’s license had expired.

“Accordingly, the gun owner already sold the gun to a certain Mr. Mago. The police managed to recover the gun. So there’s a gun here in Manila at the same time, it has a twin in Cebu,” Mayor said.

The pistol seized in Manila is now with the PNP Firearms and Explosives Office while the gun in Cebu is with the Cebu Provincial Police Office.

“Apparently there are two guns. But FEO (Firearms and Explosives Office] records show that the serial number is registered under Calavera’s name,” Mayor said. “The question now is, which one is the original?” he added.

Mayor said a registered gun owner could be held liable for selling the gun. He said the transfer of ownership of a registered firearm should have the approval of the FEO.

Another source said the gun used could be classified as a paltik or a homemade gun.

“Take note that Cebu, particularly in Danao [City], has an underground firearms industry. It’s easy to buy paltik in Cebu,” the police official, who was once assigned in Central Visayas, told The Manila Times.

Mystery
Staff at the upmarket restaurant in Cebu earlier said a group of nine people had gathered to celebrate the birthday of Consul-General Song.

They added that the group had ordered a banquet, but no alcohol, and loud shouting could be heard before the shots were fired. Aside from the diners, there were no witnesses because the shooting happened in the private room of the restaurant.

Police said they retrieved a semi-automatic Colt .45 Defender pistol and three shells from the scene.

Chief Supt. Prudencio Bañas, chief of Police Regional Office 7, admitted on Wednesday that the first officers on the scene initially let all the surviving diners go, then arrested the two–Li and Gou– a little later at the Chinese consulate without resistance.

At the police station on Wednesday night, the accused were photographed sitting down, seemingly calm as they talked to a lawyer.

Bañas on Thursday said both suspects had claimed they could not speak English, making it impossible to determine why the attack occurred.

“We don’t have a motive. We can’t talk to them. When we talk to them, they say ‘no speak English’,” the police official told Agence France-Presse.

English is one of two official languages in the Philippines and is widely used in business and diplomatic circles.

Motive of the shooting remains unknown, DFA spokesman Jose said, adding that the two suspects could not be compelled by Philippine authorities to speak up as they are not under the country’s criminal jurisdiction.

A Cebu police source, who asked that he not be named as he and other policemen were ordered by higher headquarters to clam up, also told The Manila Times that those involved in the shooting have been at odds over money.

“The incident was purely personal,” the source, who is privy to the ongoing investigation, said.

WITH AFP AND PNA

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