MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said on Tuesday that she would designate a panel of prosecutors to re-investigate the case involving the 38 alleged members of the Sultanate of Sulu’s Royal Army Security Force who were intercepted by authorities off waters in Tawi-Tawi and who had allegedly taken part in the incursion in Sabah.
The re-investigation of the case filed two weeks ago against the 38 alleged followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram was ordered on Monday, by the Tawi-Tawi Regional Trial Court Branch 5.
The accused, who are detained at a naval facility in Panglima Sugala, are facing cases of violation of Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code for Inciting to War and giving motives for reprisals, illegal possession of firearms and violation of the election gun ban.
Speaking to reporters, De Lima said that the court’s order for a re-investigation did not mean the government did not have a strong case against the 38 detainees.
“That’s (re-investigation) really a remedy provided under the Rules of Court…They were arrested without warrant and one remedy available to the accused is a re-investigation or preliminary investigation,” she said.
De Lima said upon the separate arrests of the 38 alleged followers, they were just subjected to an inquest and they did not have a chance to submit their evidence. A re-investigation of their case will give them a chance to do so, she added.
“So this is not an indication that the case against them is not strong but the respondents are just given fuller opportunity to present their side and for investigators, to further strengthen the case against them,” the justice secretary said.
The court ruled that the accused should be given the opportunity to answer the allegations filed against them.
The 38 accused have been intercepted in three separate incidents by the Philippine Navy and Philippine Coast Guard off the seas of Tawi-Tawi. They were the first batch of the RSF members to face charges in the Philippines following their incursion in Sabah over the Sultanate’s territorial claim.