MANILA, Philippines—Four senators on Tuesday rallied behind President Benigno Aquino III’s call for a peaceful settlement to a two-week long standoff in Sabah, two of them even suggested a need for intervention by international bodies to end the conflict.
“Maybe we should intensify our request for intervention by the international bodies, international tribunal including Asean to reduce its negative effect in the ongoing peace process and to avoid any problem with Malaysia without renouncing our claim to Sabah,” Senator Gringo Honasan said in a mix of English and Filipino in a phone patch interview.
“But it is important that the debate is calm, peaceful and diplomatic,” Honasan added.
Instead of resorting to violence, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said the “heirs” of the sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, may raise their claim of the land before international tribunals.
“Yes, Sabah should be peacefully settled. I suggest to the heirs to use international courts and tribunal,” Pimentel said in a text message.
Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan also backed Aquino’s call for a peaceful end to the Sabah claim.
“Bringing the supposed Sabah heirs and government representatives in one table would allow discussions on the complex issues involved in the Sabah claim including the plight of Sabah residents who have Filipino roots,” Escudero said in a separate statement.
He said a dialogue on the Sabah claim should include the Malaysian government to address the plight of the Filipino living in Sabah, who are reportedly subject to frequent exploitation.
“The immediate concern of the government should be the welfare of Filipinos who were born and raised in Sabah which is the bigger humanitarian issue that must be addressed through diplomatic channels,” Escudero said.
Escudero had earlier urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to set up a representative office in Sabah to document Filipinos who are stateless and deprived of social services from both the Malaysian and Philippine governments.
“The welfare of our countrymen who consider Sabah as their homeland should be the focus of any government negotiation with the Malaysian government,” he added.
Pangilinan , meanwhile, said the standoff has reached a “critical point” where the Philippine government “must now act decisively and do what is necessary” to protect the general interest of the Filipino people.
“Kiram is essentially declaring war on Malaysia. He must understand that it has never been a policy of the Philippines to take on other countries by force. Regardless of Sulu’s rightful claim to Sabah, an armed invasion will unlikely lead to an amicable resolution,” he said.
The Philippines’ ties with Malaysia, Pangilinan said, should take precedence over contested claims.
“This has come at a time when we are so close to achieving lasting peace with our brothers from the South. Malaysia has played a crucial role in brokering talks between the Philippine government and our Muslim brothers in Mindanao. We cannot afford to have a wedge between our country and Malaysia because of one person’s whim,” he added.