DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 March) – The eight alleged members of the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” who were charged for waging war and terrorism have been named by Malaysia’s state-owned news agency, Bernama, and the governors of Sulu, Tawi-tawi and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao are now checking the list.
Earlier reports did not name the eight who were charged with offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment. Only their ages were mentioned: between 17 and 66.
But a March 21 report of Bernama named the eight suspects, two of them charged with waging war on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Supreme Head of State) under Section 121 of Malaysia’s Penal Code.
Sec. 121 provides that “whoever wages war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or against any of the Rulers or Yang di-Pertua Negeri, or attempts to wage such war, or abets the waging of such war, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and if not sentenced to death shall also be liable to fine.”
According to media reports from Malaysia, all eight were charged under Section 130KA of the same code for allegedly being members of a terror group.
Section 130 KA states that “whoever is a member of a terrorist group shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.”
Charged with waging war and terrorism are Atik Hussin Abu Bakar and Basad Manuel.
Charged with terrorism are Hooland Kalbi, Timhar Hadir, Habil Suhaili, Lin Mad Salleh while charged with “protecting the terrorist group” are Kadir Uyung and Lating Tiong.
No bail was allowed for any of the accused.
Bernama and The Star Online quoted Kalbi, “who spoke in the Bajau language” translated by a court interpreter, as saying, “I was asked, and paid” by someone but he was not asked to elaborate since Judge Ravinthran told him his plea would be recorded only after he had obtained a lawyer.
MindaNews on Thursday night sent Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and Tawi-tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali the names of the eight as listed by Bernama and asked if these were residents of their provinces.
Both said they will have to check. Tan acknowledged in a text message on Thursday night that most are “Tausug names.” Sahali’s text message to MindaNews Friday morning said he does not know any of the eight but said there are families bearing similar names.
OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman told MindaNews Thursday night he would also have the names checked. “Pahanap ko at kausapin ko mga pamilya” (I will have their families located and I will talk to them).
Bernama’s report said Abu Bakar and Kalbi spoke in Bajau while Suhaili, who is in his early 60, was read the charges in Tausug.
Bernama said this is only the second time that charges of waging war were filed. The first involved the Al Muanah Group in Bukit Jenalik Sauk, Perak in 2000.
The original charge in the Malay language was translated into two languages: Bajau and Suluk (Tausug).
Tausugs are known as Orang Suluk in Sabah.
Bernama said the eight were charged at the Magistrate’s Court in a special session at the Lhad Datu District Police Headquarters on Wednesday. The case was ordered transferred to the High Court in Tawau on Thursday.
“They were placed under tight security throughout the proceedings and seven of them had to wear the straight jacket,” Bernama reported.
It added that the court set April 12 “for mention to find out the developments on the Attorney-General’s discussion to appoint counsels for the accused, whether they would be appointed by the Bar Council, the Philippine government or the accused themselves.”
In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino said Thursday in Naga City that he ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice to extend legal assistance to the eight. Interaksyon.com quoted Aquino as telling the state-run Radyo ng Bayan: “It is our obligation to protect the rights of our citizens.”
Lawyers for accused
In a statement Friday, Consul General Medardo Macaraig of the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, welcomed the announcement by the Malaysian Attorney General’s Chambers that the eight will be assigned local lawyers to defend them.
Macaraig said that 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.”
To ensure that the eight 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,” Macaraig said.
He said the Embassy has submitted recommendations to Manila “on how best to make available additional legal counsels to the individuals facing charges.”
The Embassy, he said, “will ensure the availability of legal counsels to assist the accused in time for the resumption of the court session” on April 12.
Earlier this week, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur’s humanitarian/consular teams turned over food packs and relief goods for Filipinos in the four evacuation centers located at the Federal Land Development Authority Salahat area last Wednesday.
A press statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs said there are some 1,500 evacuees in the four evacuation centers but “full access to the Filipinos in the evacuation centers has yet to be given by Malaysian authorities to the humanitarian/consular team.”
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya told MindaNews in a telephone interview that they have two teams comprising 15 personnel who are presently in Lahad Datu and Tawau.
He said the team in Tawau had, since last week, processed some 348 travel documents for Filipinos who expressed their desire to be repatriated to the Philippines and another 300 in Lahad Datu.
The teams have yet to have gain full access not only to the evacuees but also to the eight charged and about a hundred Filipinos detained for alleged membership in or support of the group of Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants to the proprietary rights over resource-rich Sabah.
“Despite the challenges, our humanitarian/consular teams are deeply committed to providing assistance to our nationals in Sabah. One of the most important pillars of Philippine foreign policy is assistance to nationals, and we are working double time in providing it to them,” Malaya was quoted in the DFA press statement.
The names of the detainees have not been made available by Malaysia.
Malaysian authorities have announced that 63 members of Kiram’s group had been killed since violence broke out in Lahad Datu on March 1. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)