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Malaysia charges 7 more Pinoys over standoff

MANILA, Philippines (Updated) - Seven more Filipinos and a Malaysian police officer are facing terrorism-related charges in Malaysia over their alleged participation in the Sabah standoff. 

State news agency Bernama said the charges were read to the accused -- described to be "from the southern Philippines" and aged between 20 and 63 -- on Monday, April 1, first in Bahasa Melayu then in their local languages, Badjao and Suluk. 

Five of the accused are facing two charges -- first, for waging war against the Malaysia king and second, for joining a "terrorist" group. The first charge carries a death penalty while the latter carries a life sentence. Another has been charged with joining a terrorist group. 

One of the men is facing 4 charges. Aside from waging war and joining a terrorist group, he has also been charged with recruiting terrorists or participating in terrorism, and harboring terrorists. 

A Malaysian police officer was also brought to court for refusing to disclose information about the standoff. If convicted, he could face up to 7 years of jail time and a fine. 

Gov't ready to extend assistance

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the government is still gathering more information to confirm the reports but the government is willing to provide consular and legal assistance to any Filipino facing charges over the Sabah standoff.  

"Our embassy in Kuala Lumpur has already inquired with Malaysian authorities regarding some pertinent details, such as the charges and the matter of legal representation, " he said in a press conference.

"[Once we confirm] we will go through the process of acquiring consular and jail access. We are ready to extend consular and legal assistance to our nationals who are facing charges in connection with the Lahad Datu incident," he added. 

On Monday, the prosecution -- led by Sabah Prosecution Unit chief Jamil Aripin and Lahad Datu Deputy Public Prosecutor Datu Shukor Abu Bakar -- requested that the case be transferred to the Tawau High Court, where 8 more Filipinos are also facing charges over their alleged involvement in the standoff. The court granted the request. 

Eight individuals were charged on March 20 with waging war against the Malaysian king and joining a terrorist group. The next hearing for their cases at the Tawau High Court has been set on April 12. 

This brings the total number of individuals charged over their alleged involvement in the Sabah standoff to 16. 

A consular team from the Philippine embassy visited 8 Filipinos on March 28 to check on the status of the Filipinos and help arrange legal representation for them. 

As of March 20, a total of 107 people have been arrested under Malaysia's Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act in relation to the Sabah standoff. - with reports from Angela Casauay/Rappler.com