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Palace keeps distance from Sabah standoff


05:21 PM February 15th, 2013

By: Michael Lim Ubac, February 15th, 2013 05:21 PM

Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Friday expressed reluctance to meddle in the reported incursion in Sabah of an armed group of 100 Filipinos who identified themselves as the “royal army” of the Sultanate of Sulu in southern Mindanao.

Undersecretary Abigail Valte, a Palace spokesperson, was non-committal when asked at a briefing in the Palace whether the Philippine government would intervene to prevent the situation from escalating into a bloody confrontation.

The action of the Aquino administration was limited, thus far, to coordinating with formal channels in the Malaysian government of Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Valte, however, denied that the group was armed as claimed by the Malaysian authorities.

“According to (Defense) Secretary (Voltaire) Gazmin, they are reportedly unarmed,” said Valte.

The intruders have been ordered to surrender their weapons, Malaysian national police chief Ismail Omar said, according to wire reports.

But Ismail did not disclose the number of suspects, or how they were armed.

Wire reports said that the men, wearing military fatigues, have demanded to be recognized as the “Royal Sulu Sultanate Army,” and insisted that they have the right to stay in Sabah as subjects of the sultanate.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda did not reply when asked, through a text message, about the Palace’s official position on the country’s dormant claim to Sabah, one of the 13 states of Malaysia.

“Our Philippine and military officials have already coordinated with their counterparts in Malaysia to determine that particular event. As the Department of Foreign Affairs said, we are trying to ascertain the facts that are attendant to the story,” said Valte.

“The Philippine Embassy in Malaysia has already dispatched our police attaché to that particular (area) to see what’s really happening, and we continue to monitor the situation,” Valte added.

Asked if the Philippine government was inclined to provide any form of assistance—legal or diplomatic—to the group, Valte said:

“As a general rule, it’s the duty of our government to help (and) extend assistance to any Filipino abroad wherever they may be. At this point, however, we would like to ascertain the facts first,” she said.

The Aquino administration was monitoring how things would turn out.

“At least, (we are) aware (of it). Our Philippine Embassy in Malaysia is already actively working there to ascertain what’s the situation on the ground,” said Valte.

She said that “assessment” would follow suit since “we have ways (to go) forward if we could determine the real situation.”

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