Two Chinese diplomats being held over a gun attack that killed two colleagues and wounded another have immunity from prosecution and will be sent back to China, the Philippines said Thursday.
China’s consul general in the central Philippine city of Cebu survived being shot in the neck, but two of his staff members died during the lunchtime attack in a private room of a restaurant on Wednesday, police said.
Police detained a husband and wife who were at the lunch and foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose said Thursday they were both accredited Chinese diplomats.
“Custody will be given to the Chinese side and they will undergo legal process in China,” Jose told reporters.
Jose said China had already invoked diplomatic immunity as its right under the United Nations’ Vienna Convention.
However, the positions held by the two suspects at the consulate remained unclear.
In a statement released before briefing reporters, Jose said those involved in the shooting were “all members” of the Chinese consulate in Cebu.
But the 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 shootings took place.
Staff at the upmarket restaurant in Cebu, the Philippines’ second biggest city, earlier said a group of nine people had gathered to celebrate the birthday of the consul general, Song Ronghua.
They said 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 shootings occurred in the private room.
Police said they retrieved a semi-automatic Colt .45 pistol and three shells from the scene.
Regional police chief Tom Banas admitted on Wednesday the first officers on the scene initially let all the surviving diners go, then arrested the two a short time later elsewhere without resistance.
At the police station on Wednesday night, the accused were photographed sitting apparently very calmly talking to a lawyer.
Banas said Thursday both of the 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’,” Banas said.
In the Philippines, English is one of two official languages and is widely used in business and diplomatic circles.
Foreign ministry spokesman Jose said the Chinese government had made clear it wanted to take the accused pair and not have them go through the Philippine legal system.
“Precisely that’s why the Chinese government wants to take custody of them and they will have to undergo the Chinese legal process,” he said, when asked about the issue of diplomatic immunity.
China has the death penalty, while the Philippines does not.
But Jose said the suspects could not waive their right to diplomatic immunity to try and remain in the Philippines.
“Having diplomatic immunity, only his government can waive his right and his government has already invoked diplomatic immunity,” Jose said.
Spokespeople at the Chinese embassy in Manila were unavailable for comment.