By Babylyn Kano-Omar, VERA Files
BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi— Malaysian Police have detained 32 Liberal Party candidates and their supporters who were on their way to the Turtle Islands to accompany a gubernatorial candidate on his campaign around 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Naval Task Force 62 commander Captain Renato Youngque confirmed that the 32 are now in the custody of the Malaysian Police in Sandakan, Sabah.
They were accompanying gubernatorial candidate Nurbert M. Sahali.
Those arrested include Romel Matba and Amman Matba, candidates for mayor and vice-mayor respectively in Languyan town, according to Geronima Matba, the mayoral bet’s wife.
Also with them were four candidates for Languyan town council—Habib Baginda Tambutoh, Manny Maraji, Abubakar Ibrahim, and Berhamin Abubakar—as well as police escort Hassan Abdilla.
Geronima said the motorboat carrying the LP members left Bongao for Taganak in the Turtle Islands at around 3 p.m. on Sunday and were expected to arrive after 14 hours.
The motorboat, however, was found empty at the Sandakan port.
Governor Sadikul A. Sahali, Nurbert's father, said the LP candidates and supporters may have been mistaken to be followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
Kiram’s group is trying to forcibly reclaim Sabah, which in 1878 his forebears had rented out to a British company that eventually turned the territory over to the Malaysian government.
Geronima said they feared a case may be filed against the 32, given the recent standoff in Sabah and reported mass arrest of Filipinos there. She appealed to the local and national LP leadership to act fast, as this might hamper the LP campaign in the local level.
Youngque said they have already relayed to the governor that the issue needed to be brought to the attention of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Tawi-Tawi is composed of 303 islands and islets. Taganak, the largest of the Turtle Islands and the farthest, is about a 20-minute ride by speedboat from Sandakan.
In the provinces, candidates belonging to the same party usually accompany provincial candidates on their campaign trail and go house-to-house with them.
People from the remote municipalities of Mapun and the village of Taganak seldom see candidates in person so, candidates have to reach out to them.
(ARMM WATCH is a project of VERA Files in partnership with MindaNews and I-Watch. It is supported by The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)