MANILA, MARCH 25, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Delon Porcalla and Pia Lee-Brago - One of the eight Filipinos charged with terrorism in Sabah admitted yesterday having been paid to join the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, according to Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama.

Hooland Kalbi made the admission in the Badjao dialect before judge P. Ravinthran, Bernama said. But the judge told the court interpreter to tell the accused to stop speaking as his words would only be recorded after he had obtained a lawyer.

Another Filipino Timhar Hadir told the court that he entered Malaysia last February using an international passport. He was also prevented from saying more by Ravinthran without consulting his lawyer.

Another accused charged with the same offense was Habil Suhaili, believed to be in his 60s, Bernama said. The report said it took the accused quite sometime to understand the charge made against him. The charge was read to him several times in Suluk.

The report said Habil did not commit the offense, but was also told by the judge that his plea would not be recorded.

The first accused, Atik Hussein Abu Bakar, who spoke also in Badjao, asked the court to explain the charges against him.

The other four accused – Lin Mad Salleh, Basad Manuel, Kadir Uyung and Lating Tiong – said they had nothing to say.

Atik Hussein and Basad are being charged with engaging in terrorism and waging war against the Malaysian king. They face the death penalty.

Lin is charged with engaging in terrorism, while Kadir and Lating are charged with protecting the terrorist group.

The accused were not granted bail.

The hearing on the case is set for April 12 with Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail vowing to ensure that all eight accused would have legal representation by then, Malaysia’s Star Online report said.

Legal aid

As Kuala Lumpur continues to deny access to Filipinos detained in connection with the violence in Sabah, President Aquino vowed legal assistance yesterday to the eight accused.

“The legal assistance we have been giving is automatic, regardless of what case our fellow Filipino is facing abroad, and it doesn’t matter whether we believe in their cause or not,” Aquino told Palace reporters in a chance interview in Naga City where he met local leaders and led in the groundbreaking for a monument to the late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo.

“But we have an obligation to protect our rights, and of course the agency that is focused on that issue is the Department of Foreign Affairs, assisted by the Department of Justice,” Aquino added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has instructed the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur to find out the identities and condition of the Filipinos.

“Upon the Secretary of Foreign Affairs’ instruction, the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur is working on its access to the reported eight Filipinos charged with terrorism in Sabah to find out their identities, their personal condition and the charges filed,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said yesterday.

He also said the Malaysian government has not acted yet on the Philippines’ request for full access to the Kiram followers detained in Malaysia.

In hiding

In Basilan, many evacuees from Sabah have refused to come out for fear of being criminally charged along with followers of the sultanate, officials said.

Basilan provincial administrator Tahira Ismael told journalists that only 113 of the estimated 400 returnees have so far availed of assistance being offered by the national and local governments.

She said the evacuees in hiding are afraid they might suffer the same fate as the 38 members of the “royal sultanate force” intercepted, detained and charged in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.

Charged with inciting to war, illegal possession of firearms and violation of the election gun ban, the 38 followers of Kiram are now detained at a Philippine Navy station in Batu-Batu, Panglima Sugala town in Tawi-Tawi.

A P6.2-million bail has been recommended for the temporary release of the accused.

Meanwhile, Tawi-Tawi provincial police director Senior Superintendent Joselito Salido said the situation in the area has normalized.

But Tawi-Tawi provincial board member Algarad Lipae said many in the province have not reported for work or gone back to their usual business for fear of being implicated in the Sabah incursion.

“Because of what is happening, it is not only Tawi-Tawi but the Sabah economy is heavily affected,” Lipae said.

US hands off on Sabah

The United States embassy has distanced itself from the Sabah crisis, optimistic that the Philippines and Malaysia could resolve the issue.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. told defense reporters yesterday that they do not view the Sabah issue as a security matter that could affect the US.

“This is not something we are involved in and we do not seek to be involved in any way,” Thomas said.

“We would never interfere in the sovereign rights of the Philippine government or try to tell President Aquino or Prime Minister Najib (Razak) how to resolve this challenge,” he said.

Security beefed up

At the Kiram residence in Maharlika Village in Taguig City, security has been beefed up in the wake of reports that a hit squad from Malaysia has arrived to assassinate the sultan.

Aside from installing closed circuit television cameras around the sultan’s residence, Kiram’s men said they would also be issuing identification cards to members of the media covering the sultan and his family.

“We’re no longer expecting the Philippine government to protect us and it seems this Malaysian death squad is freely roaming Metro Manila now,” sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani said.

“If something happens to any member of the sultanate and its supporters in the Philippines due to assassination, liquidation and other terroristic act, then there is no one to blame but you Mr. President,” he added.

He earlier claimed receiving information that a hit squad from Malaysia led by a certain Col. Sunny Ng had arrived in Manila.

“They have not made any investigation and yet they already have a conclusion that this assassination plot is not true. We do not want such irresponsible statement from a supposedly respectable spokesperson of Malacañang,” Idjirani said, referring to Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda. – With Jaime Laude, Mike Frialde, Alexis Romero, Edith Regalado, Marvin Sy

8 Filipinos face death, life terms in Malaysia Terrorism charges filed under KL laws Philippine Daily Inquirer

[Malaysian policemen lead away a suspected intruder from Sulu in Lahad Datu on Wednesday. MALAYSIA’S THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK]

MANILA - Malaysia brought criminal charges against eight Filipinos on Wednesday, more than two weeks after a standoff in Sabah between Malaysian security forces and an armed group from the sultanate of Sulu erupted into violence that killed 72 people.

More than 100 others face similar charges.

It was not clear whether the eight were the first of the captured followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who, together with more than 200 others, slipped into Sabah on Feb. 9 and seized the coastal village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu town to stake their clan’s ancestral claim to the eastern Malaysian territory.

The eight men, whose ages ranged from 17 to 66, did not enter a plea, and no further hearing dates were immediately scheduled as the case was being transferred from a Sabah district court to a higher court, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.

Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the sultanate of Sulu, condemned the filing of terrorism charges against the eight Filipinos, saying Malaysian prosecutors have not fully disclosed the evidence used in the complaints against the suspect.

Idjirani said he feared the rights of the eight men were being violated and that there was a lack of transparency in the handling of their cases.

“In the first place, these Filipinos, if indeed they were involved, were just defending their rights because Sabah belongs to the sultanate and the Filipino people and Malaysia is just the administrator,” Idjirani said.

Idjirani urged the Malaysian authorities to release the suspects and called on the administration of President Aquino to provide them with legal assistance.

Earlier Malaysian Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail asked the Bar Council of Malaysia and the Sabah Law Association to provide legal representation for detained followers of the Sulu sultan.

Christopher Leong, vice president of the bar council, said Wednesday his group would talk to Abdul Gani about giving legal assistance to the detainees.

Police filed charges of launching terroristic acts under Section 130A of the Penal Code and waging war against Malaysian King Abdul Halim under Section 121 of the code against the eight men in a makeshift courtroom in Lahad Datu.

Section 130A provides for a jail term of up to 30 years, while Section 121 provides for the death penalty on conviction.

Twelve members of the armed group led by Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, were killed and 10 others were captured when Malaysian police launched an assault on Tanduo on March 1, after a 17-day standoff.

The assault ended in a rout for Agbimuddin’s group, which led to the spread of violence to other parts of Lahad Datu, triggering evacuations of entire villages to avoid casualties among the civilian population.

Fifty other men from Agbimuddin’s group were killed in skirmishes with Malaysian police and military troops in three other villages in Lahad Datu where the sultanate’s followers spread out after the rout in Tanduo.

Eight Malaysian policemen and two soldiers were killed in fighting between the security forces and small units from Agbimuddin’s group.

Others facing charges

Malaysian police arrested 107 people in other villages in a crackdown on Jamalul’s supporters in Sabah.

Those arrested include suspected members of Agbimuddin’s group, uniformed personnel and villagers who might have directly or indirectly abetted the Sulu group.

Police said the 107 people were arrested in Lahad Datu, Semporna, Kunak, Sandakan and other parts of the state.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said on Wednesday the suspects were being investigated for various offenses, including possession of offensive weapons, suspicious personal documents and illegal entry.

Hamza said the suspects were arrested under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act of 2011 but would be charged under the Penal Code.

Fighting continues

Skirmishes between Malaysian troops and about 50 men from Agbimuddin’s group were reported in Tanjung Batu on Wednesday as the military cleared the area of the Sulu sultan’s followers.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.

The fate of Agbimuddin remained uncertain Wednesday despite reports that he managed to slip out of Sabah after the March 1 rout of his group.

Malaysian military chief Zulkifeli Zin said on Friday that Agbimuddin had fled to southern Philippines and most likely hiding in Tawi-Tawi.

His family in Manila insists Agbimuddin is still in Sabah and that reports that he has abandoned the sultan’s followers there as propaganda of the Malaysian government.

Agbimuddin will be arrested if he returns to the Philippines. Thirty-eight members of his group who slipped out of Sabah were intercepted by the Philippine Navy off Tawi-Tawi last week and were charged in court there.

“Our police and Navy are on the lookout for him,” Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahari was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper of Malaysia about reports that Agbimuddin was in hiding in the south.

The Malaysian and Philippine governments had sought for weeks to end the occupation of Tanduo peacefully by urging Agbimuddin’s group to leave without facing charges.

But the killing of two Malaysian policemen by Agbimuddin’s men on March 1 sparked the police assault that dislodged them from Tanduo.

The recovery of the beheaded bodies of two other Malaysian policemen in Semporna on March 2 drew air strikes and artillery attacks from the military.

Clearing operations

The operations continued Wednesday, with armored personnel carriers (APCs) entering Tanjung Batu to clear the village of Agbimuddin’s men.

Hamza explained that APCs had better mobility compared with military tanks and could have better access to rugged areas within the zone of security operations.

“We are better equipped now and we expect to complete clearing the Tanjung Batu area in the next 24 hours,” Hamza said.—Reports from Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao; AP and The Star/Asia News Network

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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