The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday said it is working to ensure that fair trial will be accorded to the 27 Filipinos facing terrorism charges because of the intrusion in Lahad Datu, Sabah early last year to reclaim their “homeland.”
The Filipinos were involved in a bloody clash with Malaysian forces as they followed the order of the late Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd to reclaim their homeland in Sabah, which is being claimed by both Manila and Kuala Lumpur but is controlled by Malaysia.
“We will continue to follow this case closely and strive to ensure fair trial for the accused Filipinos and that due process is afforded to them at all stages of the judicial proceedings,” Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said.
The trial of the 27 Filipinos is currently ongoing in an open court in Kota Kinabalu, also part of Sabah.
The hearings were scheduled for 22 trial days within the period from January 6 to February 21.
Citing the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Hernandez said the trial “has so far been devoted to the presentation of some witnesses for the prosecution.”
He added that the embassy is “proactively monitoring” the trial and has already dispatched its representatives to Kota Kinabalu to observe the proceedings.
The embassy also engaged the legal services of a “highly respected Malaysian lawyer” and six Sabah-based lawyers “to defend the accused Filipinos in court.”
A source, who refused to be identified, told The Manila Times, that the Malaysian government is keen to see the 27 Filipinos handed with the death sentence.
The source said political tensions in the country is pushing the administration to show its citizens that it has an iron-clad hold in ensuring the security of Malaysian territories.
About 200 followers of Kiram arrived in Lahad Datu, Sabah on February 9 last year to reclaim their “ancestral homeland.” They were led by Kiram’s brother, Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram.
The claim was based on an old document showing the Sulu Sultanate as the owner of Sabah, which was eventually leased to a British railroad company.
Britain turned the oil-rich territory to the Malaysian federation in the 1960s, but Kuala Lumpur continues to pay its annual leasing fee to the Sultanate of Sulu.
The sultanate insists that the yearly settlement is an admission that it is the rightful owner of Sabah.
In the ensuing clashes that followed the arrival of 200 of Kiram’s followes in Lahad Datu, some 68 Filipinos and 10 Malaysian security personnel died.
The sultan, aged 75, died of multiple organ failure on October 20 last year. BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON