11 of 27 Filipinos jailed for Sabah standoff cleared PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 February 2016 14:01

A Malaysian court has cleared 11 of 27 Filipinos jailed in connection with the February 2013 bloody standoff in Lahad Datu town in eastern Sabah state that left at least 72 people dead.

In a statement on Saturday, the Philippine Embassy in  Kuala Lumpur said the High Court of Kota Kinabalu issued a ruling on Friday acquitting 11 of 27 Filipinos who were accused of being part of more than 200 gunmen who were sent by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu, to lay siege to Lahad Datu to assert the unresolved territorial claim of the Philippines to eastern Sabah.

The Philippine Embassy said Judge Stephen Chung found no prima facie evidence against the 11 and the charges against them were ordered dropped.

The Court gave the prosecution 14 days to file an appeal on the dismissal of the charges. If no appeal is filed, 10 of the 11 acquitted will be released and eventually sent home. One of the 11, Totoh bin Hismullah may remain in Malaysia as he had been found by the Court to be a Malaysian citizen and no longer a Filipino.

On the other hand, the Court found prima facie evidence against the remaining 16 Filipinos and have been ordered by the Court to present, through their legal counsel, evidence in their defense. This will give the Defense an opportunity to refute the Prosecution’s evidence.

The embassy explained that the determination made by the court is only preliminary and was based on the evidence presented by the prosecution. A verdict on the culpability, if any, of the 16 remaining accused will not be rendered until the defense has completed the presentation of its evidence, which is expected to begin later this month.

The embassy said all 27 accused Filipinos were assisted and represented before and during the trial by a highly-qualified Malaysian lawyer, Datuk N. Sivananthan, whose services were arranged by the embassy and paid for by the Philippine government. An Embassy representative was present at Friday’s hearing.

On February 11, 2013, some 200 mostly armed men calling themselves “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” landed in Lahad Datu from Simunul, Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost province, saying they were sent by Sultan Kiram to claim Sabah as belonging to the Sulu Sultanate.

Malaysian security forces surrounded the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu where the Filipino armed men had gathered and, after several weeks of negotiations and unmet deadlines for the attackers to leave, the Malaysian security forces attacked and defeated’s Kiram’s loyalists. The standoff left  72 people dead, including 56 of the loyalists 6 Malaysian civilians and 10 Malaysian security forces.

The Philippines retains a dormant claim to Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo,

Kiram said he was prompted to send his people to Sabah after the Philippine government left them out of the framework agreement signed in October, which only catered to the interest of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

On February 26, President Benigno Aquino appealed to Kiram to order his loyalists to get out of Lahad Datu as they were endangering the lives of thousands of Filipinos living and working in Sabah. The president had threatened to arrest him, but Kiram remained defiant,  He said he was ready to be jailed if the Philippine government filed a case against him and the members of his family.

The standoff ended on March, 2013 with Malaydian security forces routing Jamalul’s  loyalists, killing some of them and arresting the rest.

The 75-year-old sultan died of multiple organ failure nine months after the Sabah standoff.

Malaysia, which took over Sabah in 1963, brokered the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Khaled Musa, deputy chairperson of the MILF’s committee on information, had told GMA News that while the MILF respects the Kiram family’s claim to Sabah and won’t stand in the way of that claim, it “will not revive the claim.”

Kiram, who ran but lost in the 2007 senatorial elections, was the acknowledged leader of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. The sultanate based in Southern Philippines once controlled North Borneo, which is now known as Sabah.

The sultanate acquired Sabah as a prize for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies.

According to the sultante, it did not relinquish its sovereignty over Sabah and only leased the territory to the Briitish North Borneo Company starting in 1878.

The keyword in the 1878 agreement between the Kiram family and Gustavo von de Overbeck of the Briitish North Borneo Company was “pajak” (lease).

The lease continued until the independence and formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963, which included Sabah.

Because of Sabah’s inclusion, the Philippine government during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal, broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia.

It was during Macapagal’s term when then reigning Sultan of Sulu, Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram I, ceded to the Philippine government the full sovereignty, title, and dominion of Sabah to the Republic of the Philippines. This gave the Philippine government the full authority to pursue its claim to Sabah in international courts.

But starting in 1989, succeeding administrations put the Sabah claim on the back burner and instead decided to pursue economic and security relations with Malaysia.

Up to now, the heirs of the sultanate receive rental money for Sabah from the Malaysian government.

Sabah’s total land area is 7.36 million hectares or almost one-fourth of the Philippines, which is 30 million hectares.

The Malaysian government pays the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, 5,300 Malaysian ringgit (P70,000).

Kiram had said the rent they receive only proves that the sultanate owns Sabah.