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Legarda: Extend assistance to detained Filipinos in Malaysia

March 22, 2013

Senator Loren Legarda, Chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure that the rights of Filipinos being charged with terror crimes, as well as those detained for still undetermined offenses in Sabah, are protected by extending timely legal assistance to them.

Legarda’s call was made in reaction to the reported filing of charges in Sabah against eight Filipinos for allegedly “waging war against Malaysia’s king and harboring people who commit terrorist acts.” According to reports, the first offense carries a possible death penalty and the other imposes a maximum of life imprisonment on conviction. Reports indicate that there are more than a hundred Filipinos detained under Malaysia’s Security Offenses Act and another 256 are detained for other offenses.

The Senator said the Philippine government should provide timely legal assistance to the detained Filipinos to ensure that their rights and interests are adequately protected. “The unfolding police, military and legal offensive against Filipinos in Sabah is alarming given the apparent indiscriminate targeting of Filipinos in these operations and the absence of transparency on the part of the Malaysian government,” Legarda said.

“Hundreds of Filipinos are now detained in Sabah for reasons that are not clear, both to the accused and the Philippine government. It is our government’s duty to ensure that its citizens are not subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. Nothing less is expected of us, even of Malaysia, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” she added.

The Senator cautioned against “last minute legal action and diplomacy” in attending to the needs of the accused. She said, “ensuring access to timely effective legal assistance by the accused Filipinos is a duty of the government, as much as Malaysia also has a duty to respect the rights of the accused.”

Legarda said DFA officials should work with their Malaysian counterparts to establish contact with and gain access to these accused Filipinos.

“Dapat gumawa ng paraan ang DFA na makausap at mabigyan ng tulong legal ang mga kababayan natin,” she said.

Earlier, Legarda asked Malaysia to provide a corridor by which non-combatants may return to the Philippines and for the Philippine government to pursue all avenues to avoid further loss of lives.***