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Saturday, 23 March 2013

PH gets access to jailed Pinoys in Sabah; embassy working on counsel for 8 accused of terror, war

MANILA, Philippines -- Malaysia has finally allowed Philippine government officials to visit Filipinos detained in Sabah in the course of the crackdown that followed fighting between followers of the Sulu sultanate and Malaysian security forces.

Meanwhile, the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it is working with Malaysian lawyers’ groups to ensure due process for the eight Filipinos being tried in Sabah on charges that could earn them the death sentence.

The eight are the first to face charges since more than 200 followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, led by his brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, sailed to Sabah to press their historical claim over the resource-rich territory.

At least 100 more Filipinos are in Malaysian custody, according to reports.

Hernandez said a note verbale from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry informed the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur on March 20 that charges have been filed against the eight suspects.

On Thursday, a report from the official Malaysian news agency Bernama posted on independent news site Malaysiakini said the eight were presented to the Tawau High Court on Thursday where the judge explained the charges against them but did not allow them to enter their pleas because they had yet to consult their lawyers.

The report identified the eight Filipinos, all alleged to be among the followers of the Sulu sultanate who went to Sabah to press their claim to the territory, as Atik Hussin Abu Bakar, Hooland Kalbi, Lin Mad Salleh, Basad Manuel, Kadir Uyung, Lating Tiong, Timhar Hadir and Habil Suhaili.

They are all facing charges of engaging in terrorism while Atik and Basad are also accused of waging war against Malaysia’s Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or supreme ruler, which is punishable either by death of life in prison.

Malaysia also informed the embassy that consular access to the eight Filipinos and others who have been detained for investigations under relevant Malaysian laws will be granted to the embassy in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

“The Ministry will advise our embassy of the procedures of the access in due course,” Hernandez said, adding the government is hoping that this “will be done soon.”

“It is very important to have full access to the eight and the other Filipino detainees in Lahad Datu to know their conditions and make sure that their rights are protected and their welfare are also upheld,” he said.

“We have to find out who, when, where and what. Those are the things we want to know when we get full access,” he added.

Malaysia says it has killed more than 60 of the sultanate’s followers while losing nine policemen and a soldier since violence broke out March 1.

A statement from Consul General Medardo Macaraig said the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur has “submitted recommendations to Manila on how best to make available additional legal counsels to the individuals facing charges.”“Under Malaysian law, for offenses carrying the death penalty, the accused is always entitled to an assigned counsel by the courts, whether citizen or non-citizen,” the statement from Macaraig said.

“To ensure that the eight individuals are accorded due process and fair trial, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur is in communication with the Malaysian Bar Council and the Sabah Law Association which offered their services in defending the accused,” he added.

Macaraig said the Tawau court has scheduled the next appearance of the accused on April 12 to allow enough time for them to acquire counsel, after which it will set the case for trial.

“The embassy will ensure the availability of legal counsels to assist the accused in time for the resumption of the court session,” Macaraig said. (with a report from


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