DOJ mulls Manila trial for suspected terrorist nabbed in Sulu

By Benjamin Pulta

February 16, 2024, 4:49 pm

<p>Myrna Mabanza <em>(Photo courtesy of PNP Public Information Office)</em></p>

Myrna Mabanza (Photo courtesy of PNP Public Information Office)


MANILA – State prosecutors on Friday said they may opt to ask for a change of venue of the trial of suspected terrorist Myrna Mabanza to Manila due to “security concerns.”

In a press briefing, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rassendell Gingoyon of the Department of Justice Anti-Terrorist Unit noted that following the arrest of the Mabanza, who is accused of facilitating the transfer of funds to international terrorist groups, the next step would be her arraignment in Zamboanga.

"As to the security concerns of Myrna Mabanza, we are currently conducting an evaluation if it would be better to maintain that trial in Zamboanga or to transfer it to Manila considering that Myrna Mabanza is a high-profile person. The facilities in Zamboanga might not be able to be enough to contain her considering she has numerous relatives in the Zambasulta (Zamboanga, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) area," Gingoyon said.

He said transferring her to Manila to a facility in Taguig City would ensure that she would be properly guarded under the security protocols, including access to the Regional Trial Courts in Manila, and the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) courts in Taguig and Quezon City that are equipped to handle her case.

"At the moment we are still evaluating what is the best option for the government if it would be in Zamboanga or in Manila because we have to consider the transportation cost of the panel of prosecutors and the witnesses going to Zamboanga or the cost of transferring Myrna one time from Zamboanga to Manila,” Gingoyon said.

“What we can assure you is that the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC), the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the DOJ are fully prepared to handle the case whether it is in Zamboanga RTC or Manila RTC," he added.

Gingoyon said Mabanza’s arrest is an indication that although her crimes happened several years ago, the efforts of the government in going after terrorist financiers or organizations are relentless.

“The government does not forget whether this took place in 2012, 2018. The government is fully prepared to go after these individuals and prosecute them until we can get a conviction," he said.

Meanwhile, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC) Undersecretary Gilberto DC Cruz said the Marcos administration is committed to ensuring peace in Mindanao as typified by the arrest of Mabanza.

Cruz said learning from previous experiences, the Philippine National Police is now keeping a closer watch on the registration of high-powered firearms following an incident a few years back when privately purchased AK-47s ended up with rebel groups.

Some of the money which Mabanza allegedly facilitated to terror groups were used to buy firearms locally, officials said.

"We have improved on the system in keeping records on where these guns go," Cruz said.

Mabanza was arrested in Brgy. Pasil, Indanan, Sulu on February 15 in a law enforcement operation by elements of the PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines, NICA, and AMLC, and supported by the PAOCC.

She has standing arrest warrants for five counts of violation of Republic Act (RA) No. 10168 (The Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012) and RA No. 11479 (The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020), all issued on Dec. 20, 2023 in Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur with no bail recommended.

Mabanza was declared by the United States Defense Department as a specially designated global terrorist along with the Islamic State (ISIS) founder Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and the late Abu Sayyaf Group leader and ISIS emir in the Philippines Isnilon Hapilon. (PNA)