MANILA, Philippines–President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday appealed to the sultan of Sulu to help end the standoff at Sabah in a peaceful way or face the full force of the law.
In a press conference in Malacanang aired on radio and television, the President said:
“The right thing to do now is order your followers to return home as soon as possible. The choices and consequences are yours. If you choose not to cooperate, the full force of the laws of the State will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm’s way.”
“The point of no return has not been reached yet, but we are approaching that (time) fast”, Aquino read from a prepared statement, referring to an undesirable end to the standoff which started when followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III went to Lahad Datu in Sabah in a bid to occupy what they claim is their ancestral land.
“May I remind you as well that as a citizen of the republic, you are bound by the constitution and its laws,” he added.
Among the possible violations, Aquino said was Article 2 Section 2 of the Constitution which provides that “the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy”.
The enabling law of this provision is Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code which punishes those who “provoke or give occasion for a war…or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property.”
Aquino said there were 180 people in Lahad Datu, 20 to 30 of who were armed.
As a leader, Aquino told Kiram to exercise his influence among his followers.
“These are your people, it behooves you to recall them. It must be clear to you that this small group of people will not succeed in addressing your grievances and that there is no way that force can achieve your aims,” Aquino said.
Malaysia has given three extensions for the followers of Kiram to leave the area, with the last deadline set to end today, Tuesday.
Aquino said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman have agreed to sit down and resolve the issue.
Once an agreement has been reached, Aquino said a Navy ship would be immediately ready to ferry everyone home.
“There is a humanitarian ship with social workers and medical officers on board nearby to facilitate the peaceful departure of those in Lahad Datu,” Aquino said.
Aquino promised to have a dialogue with the sultan once the group arrives home.
He added that a study was ongoing to determine how strong the country’s claim was.
The last time that the Philippines raised the claim for Sabah was during the 1960s.