At least 15 Filipinos who were allegedly trying to enter Sabah with P10 million in cash have been arrested by Malaysian authorities.
The state-run Bernama news agency reported on Wednesday the Malaysian Armed Forces Joint Task Force (ATB 2) intercepted the boatload of Filipinos off Pulau Denawan, Semporna.
The Filipinos were turned over to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), the report added.
According to Major Mohammed Fahmi Ishak, media relations officer of ATB 2 Headquarters, the 15 Filipinos, whose ages ranged from 22 to 49, had trespassed Malaysian waters.
They had with them P10 million in bundled bills. The boat was towed to the military jetty at the Azumi Camp in Semporna.
The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo the Islamic denied that the arrested Filipinos were their followers sent to reinforce the Sulu Royal Forces (SRF) that have been in Sabah since February.
The sultanate’s spokesman Abraham Idjirani said they could be traders buying legitimate goods in Sabah.
“They are businessmen from Sulu, Basilan, and Zamboanga Peninsula. They are used to bringing with them bundles of cash because they have no banking system there and they do not use credit cards,” Idjirani said.
He said the sultanate, led by Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd, did not have that huge amount of money.
Idjirani said Filipino barter traders had been doing business with Sabahans and other foreigners for decades because of the territory’s nearness to the communities in the southern Philippines.
“Maybe, these corrupt Malaysian security forces were only interested in the money the Filipinos were carrying,” Idjirani added.
The Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur on April warned Filipino barter traders to comply with new Malaysian regulations requiring foreigners to present passports or seaman’s books if they wish to do business in Sabah and the neighboring territory of Labuan.
The new policies were issued after Kiram’s armed supporters seized a portion of Lahad Datu in Sabah on February, triggering a series of bloody clashes with Malaysian security forces in March.
RITCHIE A. HORARIO