Filipino coastguards convicted of killing Taiwanese fisherman

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The eight Filipino crewmen said they had shot in self-defence. AFP

Filipino coastguard sailors who opened fire on a Taiwanese fisherman in Philippine waters were convicted on Wednesday of his 2013 killing, which strained ties between the historically friendly neighbours.

The eight Filipino crewmen told authorities that they had shot in self-defence after the fisherman’s vessel sailed directly at them in the seas just north of the main Philippine island of Luzon.

A Manila court convicted the men of homicide and sentenced them to a minimum of eight years in prison, though they will be allowed to remain free while they appeal.

“We are filing a notice of appeal so that what we perceived as errors of the trial court will be thrashed out,” Paul Jomar Alcudia, one of the officers’ lawyers, said.

Taipei meanwhile welcomed the court verdict.

“Justice has been served,” Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement on Wednesday.

The killing caused a deep rift between the Asian neighbours, with then Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou describing it as “cold-blooded murder”.

After the fatal shooting, Taiwan ordered a freeze on the hiring of Filipino workers, warned its tourists against travelling to the Philippines and staged naval drills near its sea border with Manila.

Then Philippine president Benigno Aquino repeatedly apologised for the killing and sent an envoy to Taiwan, but these actions were rejected as insincere.

An agreement was subsequently put in place to avoid using force in fishing disputes to avoid similar incidents.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo said while they respect the court’s decision, it may “disappoint” some personnel.

“All I know is they did their job,” Balilo said.