Villar concerned over OFWs' plight in Sabah-A A +A
Thursday, February 28, 2013
SENATOR Manny Villar expressed concern over thousands of Filipinos presently in Sabah, Malaysia after a Sulu-based clan holed up in a town in the disputed territory defied the government's appeal for them to return to the country.
Although he recognized the claim of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers to have merits, the action they have taken is improper.
"Sa akin, hindi 'yan ang tamang paraan, pero naintindihan ko si Kiram," he told reporters during a press conference at Camella Northpoint in Davao City Thursday.
"Di masasabing totally hindi atin iyan (Sabah). Historically part iyan ng Sulu sultanate."
But Villar said he is more concerned about the safety of thousands of overseas Filipino workers in Sabah who may lose their job if the standoff in the territory gets worst.
"Ang gating mga OFWs na daang daang nasa Sabah ay maapektuhan ang kanilang mga buhay at malamang maalis sila pag magkagulo," Villar said.
He appealed to Kiram and his followers to return to the country and discuss their grievances with the Philippine government.
"Nakakalungkot pero mas maganda sana na bumalik na muna sila rito at tingnan natin ang kanilang claim at tamang proseso," he said.
This developed as a government committee is looking into charges that will be filed against the group of Kiram.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday representatives from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will gather evidence that can possibly link Kiram III and his followers to cases such as inciting to war, violation of poll gun ban, and illegal possession of firearms.
"Article 118 (of the Revised Penal Code) has territorial application even if it's not committed within the Philippine territory. We are checking if there are other violations with extra territorial application. Also, there’s the issue of illegal assemblies that we have to verify," she said.
Had Kiram's group chose to return to the country and sit down with President Benigno Aquino III over their grievances, de Lima said the government may not push through with the filing of cases in court at all.
"That is one of the options. However, it might be hard to say that for now since they have been defying the President's appeal. Certainly, they can expect charges to be filed if the result of the investigation will show that they violated our laws," she said.
De Lima said people who have aided or influenced the Kiram family to do such action could also face arrest and charges.
Subpoenas will be issued to those are involved and resource persons who can provide leads to probers. No specific deadline was set to complete the investigation.
"Most of the time I don't like giving deadlines but they know this is an urgent matter especially that the standoff is ongoing," she said.
Both the Philippines and Malaysia have agreed to convince Kiram's followers to withdraw from the village of Lahad Datu but the appeal went unheeded.
Kiram responded by expressing ownership of the resource-rich territory, which was rented by a British company in 1878 before it was transferred to Malaysia in 1963.
Malaysia has since promised to drive out the close to 200 people who claimed to be the royal army of the Sulu Sultanate but the Philippines asked not to arrest and forcibly deport them just yet.
In tandem with Aquino's promise to listen to their concerns, de Lima said she is wrapping up her legal opinion on the validity of the Sabah claim. Her report, she said, may be submitted to Malacañang by early next week. (With Sunnex)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 01, 2013.