2 suspects in diplomats' shooting have diplomatic immunity, to be handed to China: Philippines

Two Chinese nationals, a consular officer (left) and her husband (right, with handcuffs), suspects in the shooting of Chinese consul general Song Ronghua at a restaurant, talk to an interpreter (centre) at a police station in Cebu City, central Phili
Two Chinese nationals, a consular officer (left) and her husband (right, with handcuffs), suspects in the shooting of Chinese consul general Song Ronghua at a restaurant, talk to an interpreter (centre) at a police station in Cebu City, central Philippines on Oct 21, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine police will hand two suspects in the killing of two Chinese diplomats to Chinese embassy officials because of diplomatic immunity, police sources said on Thursday (Oct 22), after a bizarre restaurant shooting in the central Philippines.

The husband of a Chinese woman working at a Chinese consulate in the central city of Cebu shot dead the deputy consul-general and a senior staff member during a birthday lunch at the restaurant on Wednesday, the police have said.

Consul-General Song Ronghua was also wounded in the shooting. His deputy Sun Shen was shot in the neck and died. Ms Li Hui, a female finance officer at the consulate, was shot in the head and also died.

The suspect was arrested and identified by police as Li Qing Liang. Li's wife, Guo Jing, who works in the consulate's visa section, was also held for questioning. Both requested diplomatic immunity, the police said after the shooting.

On Thursday, national police sources said Li and Guo would be handed over to the Chinese authorities.

"The couple... are still in our custody but in view of an agreement between the Philippines and China, we would respect and honour their immunity," said a senior police officer, who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"We will defer the filing of charges against the accused and wait for the official announcement from the Department of Foreign Affairs," the officer told Reuters.

Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose said: "They enjoy diplomatic immunity. Custody will be given to the Chinese side, and they will undergo the legal process in China.

"The Chinese embassy in Manila and consulate in Cebu have been extending their full cooperation with Philippine authorities regarding the investigation. The two sides will properly handle the matter in accordance with the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations and the 2009 Consular Agreement between the Republic of the Phiilppines and the People's Republic of China."

Mr Herminio Coloma, President Benigno Aquino's spokesman, said: "The Philippine National Police are doing the necessary investigation into this, and all legal proceses are being observed."

There has been no official comment about the incident from China so far.

Police are trying to unravel the different strands of the bizarre drama.

Mr Rey Lawas, a police spokesman in Cebu city, said investigators believe the shooting could be the result of a personal grudge over financial matters between Li and Mr Sun, the deputy consul-general, or the female finance officer. "They have been at odds for a long time over personal finances," Mr Lawas said, adding the fight "was purely personal".

Waiters at the Lighthouse, a popular Filipino-food restaurant, have told the police they heard shouting from a private room but could not understand what was being said.

Minutes later they heard gunshots.

The senior police officer said investigators would also look into how the pistol used in the shooting had been acquired.

Another police officer involved in the investigation said the serial number on the weapon had been defaced and that it was similar to another gun registered in the capital, Manila.

"In Cebu, it's easy to procure a gun because of a large cottage industry for homemade guns," said the second police official, who also asked not to be identified.

China's state-backed Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday that diplomats often worked in stressful environments.

"The diplomatic service should not consider themselves to be immune to problems, nor can the public think in this way," it said.