Two Chinese diplomats being held over a gun attack in the Philippines that killed two colleagues have diplomatic immunity and will be sent back to China, the Philippine government said on Thursday.
China’s consul general in the central city of Cebu survived after 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 spokesperson Charles Jose said, on 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.”
Police had earlier said the woman arrested was a consular officer and the man was her husband.
But in his comments to reporters, Jose did not clarify their positions or identities, and said authorities still did not know why the shootings took place.
Staff at the upmarket Lighthouse restaurant in Cebu, Philippines’ second largest city, earlier told AFP 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. Apart from the diners, there were no witnesses because the shootings occurred in a 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 that 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 told AFP.
In the Philippines, English is one of two official languages and is widely used in business and diplomatic circles.
Foreign ministry spokesperson 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.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying gave little information when asked about the deaths.
“We are deeply saddened by what happened and we’re trying to get more information,” Hua said.
Asked about diplomatic immunity, she said: “China and the Philippines will deal with the relevant issue in accordance with the international convention, as with the consular agreements between the two countries.”