MANILA—The heirs of the sultan of Sulu and their followers are not going to leave Sabah despite a stern warning from President Aquino, a spokesman said.
Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesperson of the heirs to the sultanate, said Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was willing to be arrested if the Aquino government decides to file a case against the chieftain.
But Idjirani stressed that the “royal forces” of Kiram did not intend to trigger a war when they started occupying the village of Tanduao in Lahad Datu on Feb. 9.
“What we need now is a mutual understanding,” Idjirani said in a press briefing at Kiram’s house in Taguig City.
“We welcome the statement of the President. It’s a development on the right track,” he added.
He said the decision of Kiram’s followers to stay in Sabah “is not a hardline stance.”
Kiram himself issued a statement later saying his armed followers did not break any laws when they occupied a village in Sabah on Feb. 9.
Reacting to President Aquino’s statement, Kiram said, “Mr. President, what more proof do you want us to show that Sabah is ours?”
“As far as we are concerned, we haven’t committed a crime…. The sultan of Sulu’s action is a benevolent aspiration and not a violent reaction to fight,” Kiram said in the statement read by his daughter Princess Jacel Kiram.
The President on Tuesday called on Kiram III to stand down and order his followers to come home “as soon as possible,” warning of “consequences of your actions” should they continue to refuse to leave Lahad Datu in Sabah.
Mr. Aquino issued the call in a televised address at an early morning press conference in Malacañang before flying to Cagayan de Oro City, where he was to campaign for Team PNoy.
Point of no return…
“We have not yet reached the point of no return, but we are fast approaching that point,” said the President, apparently referring to the 48-hour extended deadline imposed by Malaysian authorities for the group led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of the sultan, to leave the village of Tanduao.
The deadline was to expire Tuesday.
“This is a situation that can’t persist,” the President noted, in effect, saying if the situation turned bloody, the sultan had only himself to blame.
“My duty is very clear: it is to protect the interests of all of our people, and if that is not possible, then to do what will redound to the interests of the greatest majority. This is the time to demonstrate that you are a true leader both in name and deed. The right thing to do now would be to 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,” said the President.
Mr. Aquino last week said that guns would never resolve the Sabah claim of the sultanate of Sulu.
This time, the President appealed for calm after Raja Muda told Radyo Inquirer 990 AM on Monday that the standoff with Malaysian authorities was a “do or die” situation, and that the sultanate’s “Royal Security Force” would not leave Sabah “until the issue is resolved.”
The President had this piece of advice for Jamalul and his clan that insist on historical rights over Sabah.
“The avenue of peaceful and open dialogue is still available to us. Let us therefore sit down as brothers to address your grievances in a peaceful, calm manner according to our laws and according to correct processes when your people arrive home,” said the President.
“What is clear is that a peaceful resolution of this issue is to everybody’s interest. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there are legitimate grievances, the presence of an armed group in Lahad Datu will only bring us further away from resolving these issues,” said Mr. Aquino.
Renouncing war as a policy
Despite his appeal to the sultan and his followers, Mr. Aquino said they could face charges under Philippine laws for choosing to pursue their claim to Sabah using arms.
In fact, the President had already ordered Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to launch an investigation.
Besides De Lima, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, and Undersecretaries Abigail Valte and Manolo Quezon III also turned up at the Palace press conference.
“As President and chief executor of our laws, I have tasked an investigation into possible violations of laws by you, your followers, and collaborators engaged in this foolhardy act,” he said, reminding the sultan that war had never been an instrument of the country in pressing for any of its territorial claims with neighboring countries.
“May I remind you as well that as a citizen of the republic, you are bound by the constitution and its laws. Among your possible violations is Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, the enabling law of which 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.” Thus, you are now fully aware of the consequences of your actions,” said the President.
As to whether criminal cases would be filed against the ailing sultan, Lacierda volunteered this interpretation.
“We will talk to them if they cooperate. If they don’t’ cooperate, the Department of Justice will talk to them based on the speech (of the President),” said Lacierda.
Appeal to ‘leader of clan’
“And so this is my appeal to you: These are your people, and 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,” said Mr. Aquino.
“You are a leader of your clan, and every leader seeks the well-being of his constituents. These times require you to use your influence to prevail on our countrymen to desist from this hopeless cause,” the President added.
According to the President, the action of Jamalul’s followers not only endangered their own lives but also had wide implications for Filipinos living in Sabah.
“They also put at risk our countrymen peacefully engaged in their livelihood in Sabah. These are hundreds of thousands of individuals. Their families, dependent on their wages, are likewise being made to suffer. Filipinos residing in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, who trade with Sabah, have had their commerce disrupted.
“ Most of these people are your fellow Muslims. This is a situation that cannot persist. If you are truly the leader of your people, you should be one with us in ordering your followers to return home peacefully,” said Mr. Aquino.
He reminded Jamalul that sending “approximately” 180 people, 20 to 30 of whom are armed, to Sabah “would only bring us further away from resolving these issues.”
“Having an armed group in Lahad Datu presents a challenge that the Malaysian authorities cannot ignore,” said the President, but added that from the outset of this incident, “our primary consideration has always been to protect all lives. Secretary del Rosario had already reached an agreement with Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah that this issue should be resolved in a peaceful manner.”
Mr. Aquino disclosed that Philippine armed forces and police have been actively communicating with their Malaysian counterparts “to peacefully resolve the situation,” while other agencies of government have also been tasked to prepare for any contingencies that could potentially affect Filipino citizens in Malaysia.
“Apart from this, we have also sent a number of emissaries to the Kiram family to ask them to convince the group in Lahad Datu to return home peacefully. In fact, there is a humanitarian ship with social workers and medical officers on board nearby to facilitate the peaceful departure of those in Lahad Datu,” said Mr. Aquino.