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Jailed Kiram followers will be protected - Aquino

President Benigno Aquino III said Thursday the government will protect the eight followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who were charged with terrorism and waging war cases in Sabah, Malaysia. "It is our obligation to protect the rights of our citizens," the President said. Mr. Aquino said he has already instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice to give the Filipinos legal assistance. Under Malaysian laws, terrorism charges carry a jail term of up to 30 years while waging war against the King can fetch a death penalty. A group of Sabah-based lawyers have also expressed their intention to help the eight followers of the sultanate. The Sabah Law Association, in a report carried by Malaysian news agency The Star, said it is ready to ensure that the eight Filipinos are accorded due process. Mr. Aquino earlier ordered an inter-agency team led by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. to come up with a roadmap to resolve the Sabah conflict peacefully. “I have tasked the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice and our Executive Secretary to research and recommend a roadmap for the peaceful resolution of the Sabah conflict,” the President said. The President also formed a team composed of the DoJ, DFA, Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office to study the status of the country's claim on Sabah and how the government can move it forward. Mr. Aquino said the Philippines is open to negotiating with Malaysia and embarking on a rules-based approach to resolve the Sabah claim similar to the case filed by Manila against Beijing to address the territorial dispute over Panatag Shoal. "What is needed here is a careful and truthful evaluation of the facts, and a subsequent negotiation along those lines, to produce the right solution," the President said. "Forbearance and reason are not equivalent to cowardice—on the contrary, these are the measures of true courage and resolve, because through these we are able to consider the well-being of not only those living in the here and now, but especially those in the years to come," he added.
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