The government of Presdent Benigno Aquino III must see to it that the eight Filipinos facing terrorism-related charges in Malaysia are provided with immediate and ample legal assistance, and their other human rights are well protected.
Rep. Simeon Datumanong (2nd District, Maguindanao), a former justice secretary, and Rep. Neri Colmenares (Party-list, Bayan Muna), a human rights lawyer, issued the statement following reports that the eight accused are among the more than 100 arrested under a security law, and were charged with “harboring persons committing terrorist acts” and “waging of war” against Malaysia’s king. These are punishable by a life-term imprisonment or death.
“The problem should be handled through diplomatic approach as our government should provide immediate legal assistance to them,” Datumanong said.
The former Deputy Speaker for Mindanao said the Philippine government should also work with Malaysian authorities at ensuring access to the eight accused and their humane treatment while in jail.
Colmenares said that as part of the government’s duty to its citizens, it is important that it sends competent personnel and counsel to check if there has been a violation of the rights of the arrested Filipinos. They should act upon such violations if any, and also to be able to ensure that they are being treated justly and humanely according to law.
He further said that government should tap lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) to monitor the case of these accused Filipinos.
“I just hope the government would have compassion to our fellow Filipinos who were just defending their ancestral lands. I am actually worried about them being charged by the Malaysian government with terrorism now that they are captured, while our government had also earlier expressed (its) ire against the royal army. It is like a condition where they are left on their own with no one to turn to, not even their own government,” Colmenares said.
On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino III vowed legal assistance to the eight accused. He said that legal assistance 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.”
The President said that the agency focused on this issue is the Department of Foreign Affairs, assisted by the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said, that upon the DFA Secretary’s’ instruction, the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur is working on its access to the eight Filipinos to find out their identities, their personal condition and the charges filed.
Hernandez also reported that the Malaysian government has not yet acted on the Philippines’ request for full access to followers of the Sulu sultanate detained in Malaysia