KOTA KINABALU: Six Filipinos pleaded guilty at the High Court here yesterday to separate charges of being members of the Sulu gunmen during the Lahad Datu intrusion three years ago.
Atik Hussin Abu Bakar, Lin Mad Salleh, Holland Kalbi, Basad H. Manuel, Ismail Hj Yasin and Virgilio Nemar Patulada @ Mohammad admitted before Justice Stephen Chung to each of their charges under Section 130KA of the Penal Code.
The charge which was read in Badjao, carries an imprisonment which may extend to an imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine, upon conviction.
Philippine government-assigned counsel Datuk N. Sivananthan, who is defending 16 accused persons, told the court that only eight of his clients would plead guilty to a similar charge.
In pleading for a light sentence yesterday, Sivananthan urged the court to take into account the level of involvement of his clients in this case.
He submitted that there was no evidence adduced that his clients had committed terrorism acts or involved in skirmishes but only being members of the group.
The counsel explained that most of his clients had come to Sabah and joined the Sulu gunmen after being promised jobs, positions and would be given identity cards (IC) once they reached Sabah.
Sivananthan argued that his clients would not have joined the group if they knew that there would be a war between the gunmen and Malaysian authorities.
He said one Hj Musa and Raja Muda Datu Agbimuddin Kiram had told his clients that if they came to Sabah, they would be given jobs and ICs.
However, soon after the accused followed the gunmen, Sivananthan said his clients were only asked to do jobs like collecting vegetables and fish, and some of them had also tried to run away from the gunmen after Malaysian police had dropped leaflets of safe passage to those who wanted to surrender themselves.
In reply, the prosecution urged the court to impose a maximum sentence on the accused persons on the grounds that the accused had committed a serious offence as being members of a terrorist group.
The prosecution said those accused persons should not have believed that they would be given ICs when they came to Sabah.
The prosecution rebutted that although they were only members and not involved in the gunmen’s activities, it was also stressed that the degree of involvement would in turn minimize the sentence that would be meted out by the court.
The prosecution argued that the intrusion by the gunmen led by Datu Agbimuddin was an encroachment and a direct challenge to the sovereignty and dignity of Malaysia.
It further said if the court were to solely rely on the factual mitigation as highlighted by the counsel, a lenient sentence would undermine and compromise the sovereignty of Malaysia as an independent nation.
It also urged the court to take into consideration that the skirmishes, because of the intrusion, had resulted in the deaths of nine members of the Malaysian security forces.
The accused persons were apprehended during separate operations throughout Ops Sulu (later known as Ops Daulat) at several places in Lahad Datu, Semporna, Kunak and Sandakan between February 12 and April 10, 2013.
The trial, held at a hall which doubled as an open court at the Kepayan prisons here under tight security checks by police and prison personnel, will continue today for mitigation by the other accused persons.
Deputy public prosecutors Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar and Datuk Jamil Aripin acted for the prosecution.