By ROY C. MABASA, By ELENA L. ABEN
Manila, Philippines –The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is extending assistance to the eight Filipino followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who were charged by the Malaysian government with terrorism in Sabah.
According to the DFA, the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur is now working on their access to the Filipinos in order to find out more details about them, their personal conditions, the charges filed against them, their legal representation, and the appropriate assistance to be extended to them.
Reports coming out of Malaysia said the eight Filipinos were charged Wednesday afternoon before a Magistrate’s Court in Sabah for violating two articles in Malaysia’s Penal Code: Section 122 (waging war against the King);and Section 130 KA (terrorism).
While Section 130 KA (terrorism) calls for a jail term of up to 30 years, Section 121 (waging war against the King) can fetch the death penalty.
The men, whose ages range from 17 to 66, did not enter a plea, and no further hearing dates were immediately scheduled as the case was being transferred from a Sabah district court to a higher court, the Malaysian national news agency Bernama reported.
In a television interview, DFA Spokesman Raul Hernandez said the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur has already been instructed to verify the report and get more information about the issue at hand.
“We are at a stage of confirming the report and we are studying the details so that we could see how we could best help the Filipinos involved,” said Hernandez.
The eight are said to be the first to face charges after an estimated 200 Kiram followers slipped into Sabah last month and took over the coastal village of Lahad Datu to highlight their long-dormant territorial claim to the timber-rich territory.
A Malaysian assault that began March 5 has killed 71 people, including nine Malaysian policemen.
Meanwhile, United States Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. has expressed concern over the thousands of Filipinos displaced by the on-going crisis in Sabah.
This, even as the US envoy said that the issue on Sabah should be resolved bilaterally between the governments of Philippines and Malaysia.
At the first “Security and Defense Kapihan sa Embahada / Boodle Fight with the Defense Press Corps”, Thomas told reporters that the problem was “not a matter for the United States.”He, however, expressed, hope that the issue would be resolved peacefully.
“This is a matter between the government of the Philippines and the government of Malaysia, we pray for peace and we hope,”said the envoy, as he emphasized: “This is not something we are involved and we do not seek to be involved in any way.”
KIRAM WITNESS FEARS FOR LIFE
As this developed, Kiram revealed yesterday that the lawyer-witness who reported the alleged plot by a Malaysian colonel to eliminate him, Pastor “Boy”Saycon, Abraham Idjirani, and others “fears for his life.”
Idjirani, the sultanate’s spokesman, read a statement in his press briefing on behalf of the sultan.
“The witness is fearful of his life. That is why we did not identify him to the media,”the sultan said.
According to the witness, “Malaysia is hell-bent in killing everyone in Sabah and also the Sultanate here in Manila and the supporters with special mention to Boy Saycon,”he said.
Further on, Kiram said their witness is of the belief “the government cannot protect him and his family.”(Edd K. Usman)