MANILA, Philippines – The government will not withhold consular and legal assistance to the eight men accused of terrorism in Sabah despite doubts raised by a spokesman for Sultan Jamalul Kiram III about their citizenship.
The Philippine embassy in Malaysia has been granted consular access to them, said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte in a radio interview Saturday.
She said that the Philippine government, through its embassy in Kuala Lumpur, “will be taking the necessary steps to extend the assistance that is needed.”
Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for Kiram, claimed Friday that the accused were not Filipinos but Malaysians. He had condemned the filing of the charges against the followers of Kiram.
Valte’s statement was in compliance with a directive from President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday that the eight Filipinos charged with terrorism in Lahad Datu, Sabah be provided lawyers.
Aquino told reporters in Naga City that he had an “obligation” to ensure that the Filipinos were accorded due process under Malaysian laws.
“It’s automatic for us to provide legal assistance to any of our countrymen facing charges regardless if we believe or not in their cause,” said the President.
“We have not heard any contrary reports from our side, so… we will proceed to provide the assistance,” Valte said in the radio interview.
Valte questioned Idjirani’s latest claim, and asked why the Sulu sultanate had to sing “a different tune.”
“I think they have to solidify [or] clarify their position. The other day, that particular side condemned the filing of charges against these eight people, and they expressed their concern that perhaps the offense might carry the death penalty, etcetera. So today, they’re singing a different tune—that these men are not Filipinos but supposedly Malaysians. So we don’t know what necessitated the change in their position, but as far as we are concerned, we have been granted access to the eight, and our officials will be providing [assistance],” she said.