MANILA, Philippines - Eight men charged with terrorism-related offenses in Malaysian courts in connection with the violence in Sabah are neither Filipinos nor followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani said yesterday.
He said one of the men had even assumed the identity of one of the fighters of the sultanate killed by Malaysian forces last March 1.
Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama said on Thursday that the man – identified as Hooland Kalibi – admitted before a court that he had been paid to join the Sabah incursion.
Idjirani said they got the information from “a relative of the wife” of the leader of the sultanate’s armed followers in Sulu, Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of the sultan.
“What does the Malaysian government intend to do? They are lying through their teeth. They are fooling the Philippine government and the entire world,” he said. “Hooland Kalibi is dead, that we are sure about.
“Malaysia will continue to lie so that the sultanate will not get any support from President Aquino, from our own government. Malaysia is fooling the world,” Idjirani said.
Malaysia’s Star Online had reported that eight Filipinos – aged between 17 and 66 – had been charged before a Magistrate Court in Lahad Datu with “waging war” against Malaysia’s king and with terrorism. Waging war against Malaysia’s king is punishable by death, while terrorism carries a prison term of up to 30 years.
Idjirani also accused the Malaysian government of waging a disinformation campaign to discredit the Sulu sultanate before the Philippine government and the international community.
He also dared Malaysia to allow international media access to the territory.
“I think we understand why they did not want international media to enter Sabah. It’s because they’re hiding something,” Idjirani said.
According to Idjirani, a total of 108 Filipinos in Sabah have been arrested under Malaysia’s Security Offences (Special Measures) Act of 2012 for allegedly supporting the “royal sultanate force” which entered Sabah on Feb. 12.
At least 243 others face charges for alleged violation of the country’s Immigration and National Registration Acts, he added.
Idjirani also denied reports from Malaysia that Agbimuddin had already left Sabah and is now in hiding in Mindanao.
Plea for access granted
As Malaysia continues to round up Filipinos suspected of having links to the Kirams, Philippine authorities have finally been given access to those in detention.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday that the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, through a note verbale dated March 20, stated the “procedures of the access in due course.”
“In reply to our requests for access to Filipinos under their custody, our embassy in Kuala Lumpur has received notes from the Malaysian Foreign Ministry that consular access to eight members of the armed group charged for offenses under Malaysia Penal Code will be granted to the embassy,” said DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez.
The “embassy will submit an application for access to the Foreign Ministry which will be processed within three days,” he said.
Malaysia’s Attorney General, for its part, announced that the eight accused would be assigned local lawyers.
“We welcome the announcement by the Malaysian Attorney General’s Chambers that the eight individuals who were allegedly involved in the Lahad Datu incidents will be assigned local lawyers to defend them,” Consul General Medardo Macaraig said.
“To ensure that the eight individuals are accorded due process and fair trial, the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur is in communication with the Malaysian Bar Council and the Sabah Law Association which offered their services in defending the accused,” he added.
The Tawau High Court has scheduled the hearing on the charges against the eight Filipinos on April 12.
“The embassy will ensure the availability of legal counsels to assist the accused in time for the resumption of the court session,” Macaraig said.
The real sultan
As the Kirams in Manila decry what they call lack of government support for their cause, a professor in Davao City claiming to be a daughter of the real sultan of Sulu is urging the government to first help unify the three houses of the Sulu sultanate if it wants to strengthen its claim on Sabah.
Rita Tuban said Jamalul Kiram alone cannot speak for the sultanate regarding the Sabah issue.
“The three houses should peacefully settle it first among themselves,” she said, referring to the houses of Kiram, Sakirawllah, and Alimuddin.
Tuban insisted that her father, Sultan Tuban Wizer Hankiram Sakirawllah Alimuddin I, who died in 1997, was the real sultan of Sulu based on the Salsila or the record of genealogy of the Tausug nobility. Tuban had written a book about the genealogy of the Sulu sultanate.
Meanwhile, 161 people, mostly women and children, have been rescued adrift in the Sulu Sea on a boat whose engine conked out while sailing from strife-torn Sabah.
A Philippine Navy patrol boat spotted the M/L Okay near Tuba Lubak Island at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and escorted it to the Port of Sulu where the refugees were given food and provisions.
The group skipped the usual Sandakan-Taganak route to evade Malaysian sea patrols.
Refugees yesterday reported intensifying crackdown by Malaysian security forces on suspected followers of the Sulu sultanate, including house-to-house search and setting up of roadblocks and checkpoints.
“The Malaysian security forces have started stopping cars and buses coming from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan and other major routes heading towards the eastern coast, checking documents of commuters,” a Filipino employed in Sabah said.
The Malaysian forces were reportedly venting their ire on Filipinos in Lahad Datu, Tawau, Sandakan and Semporna after failing to capture or kill Agbimuddin.
“Any day now, the Malaysian security forces are launching a Sabah-wide major operasi (crackdown) against document and undocumented. The operasi is now being felt in Kota Kinabalu,” another Filipino said. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude, Edith Regalado, John Unson, Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan