The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officers who were criminally charged for the death of Taiwanese fisherman Hung Shih cheng last year after a sea chase and confrontation off Balintang Channel have asked the Supreme Court (SC) to transfer the trial of the case from Batanes to Manila.
In an 11-page petition, the PCG officers said that if the trial will be conducted in Batanes, they will be deprived of effective access to the resources, witnesses and evidence they will need for their defense.
The petitioners are Seaman 2nd class (SN2) Nicky Reynold Aurellio, SN1 Edrando Quiapo Aguila, SN1 Mhelvyn Aguilar Bendo III, PO2 Richard Fernandez Corpuz, SN1 Andy Gibb Ronario Golfo, SN1 Sunny Galang Masangkay and SN1 Henry Baco Solomon.
They were charged in court with Commanding Officer Arnold Enriquez de la Cruz for the fatal shooting of the Taiwanese fisherman.
They argued that they are all based in Port Area, Manila, the Office of the PCG and the incident happened in the performance of their duty.
They added that there was also an “ill will” between the PCG and the members of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) who are based in Region 2 after they were mentioned as those who coaxed them to tamper some of the evidence that led to the filing of an obstruction of justice case.
“Hence to require all petitioners, as well as their witnesses and evidence, to move from Metro Manila to Batanes for each and every hearing of the criminal case would be a tremendous expenditure of time, resources and manpower, not to mention finances which petitioners, as low-ranking civil servants, have little of,” the petition filed through their counsel Atty. Rodrigo Moreno said.
The petitioners further argued that with the distance involved, it will prevent them from “gathering, marshaling and properly presenting their evidence in the case or even attending the hearings.”
“This is because petitioners witnesses will be reluctant or perhaps even unwilling to travel to Batanes unless they are compensated for their time and travel and lodging expenses, which petitioners cannot afford,” they said.
They added that even the government would also spend a considerable amount of money because they will bear the expenses of their witnesses and evidence.
Among the witnesses that the government are going to present during the trial are the other crew members—two Taiwanese fishermen and their Indonesian colleague-of the Taiwanese fishing vessel Guang Da Xing 28 whom they explained will fly in from their respective countries to Manila and then go to Batanes when they are set to take the witness stand.
“Further, petitioners as well as their witnesses will be under the threat of physical harm or even deaths, or at the very least some form of harassment, every time they attend the hearing of the case given the intense ill will that exists between them and other parties. This is especially true considering that one such party is a sovereign nation with a considerable military force located nearby. Hence, even if petitioners can bring their evidence and witnesses to Batanes, they will be unable to effectively and properly present them,” they added.
Given all these circumstances, the petitioners said, continuing the trial to be held in Batanes may result to a miscarriage of justice.
The case arose when the PCG officers on board a vessel of the BFAR patrolling off the coast of Balintang Channel intercepted the Taiwanese fishing vessel for poaching.
After a brief sea chase, they fired at the fishing vessel, killing the Taiwanese fisherman.
In recommending the filing of the charges, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed the claim of the respondents that they were forced to fire at the Taiwanese fishing vessel after it tried to ram the BFAR ship.
The DOJ said that they found no evidence to indicate or to prove that the Taiwanese fishing vessel posed an imminent or grave danger to the respondents before and during the pursuit.
It added that the claim of self-defense by the respondents should be better left threshed out in the trial court during a full-blown hearing. PNA