MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Monday reiterated that the government would pursue peaceful means to resolve clashes between followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and the Malaysian government.
In a press conference, he said that their priority was to ensure the safety of the 800,000 Filipinos currently based in Sabah.
Tension escalated as fresh firefights erupted in Semporna town this weekend, after the standoff in Lahad Datu town ended with fatalities in both sides.
The President maintained that using force to resolve the territorial dispute on Sabah would only worsen the situation, saying there could be no reasonable discussion if one party is trying to resolve the issue at gunpoint. “Hindi risonableng humingi ng pangunawa kung nakatutok ang iyong armas sa kanyang mukha.”
Asked if he gave clearance for the Malaysian authorities to go after the royal army, Aquino said that if the tables were turned and it was the Philippines which was under attack, he would not be asking for anyone’s clearance to defend his people.
“Pwede bang magsawalang kibo tayo? Kahit anong lahi, papalag (Can we remain silent? Any country and its people will fight back),” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario is headed to Malaysia to speak with his counterpart Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Aquino said he would await word about talks on the situation in Sabah Monday night.
The President also said that they have received intelligence reports on a conspiracy which led to the standoff—possibly linked to “people from the former administration.”
“Hindi kaya ng angkan ni Kiram gawin ng mag-isa ang ganitong kilos (The Kiram family would not be able to do this on its own),” Aquino said,pointing out that the royal army needed at least two boats, a speedboat, funds and food, in carrying out its mission in Sabah.
He said that they were already looking at certain persons of interest and were gathering evidence on the alleged conspiracy.
Aquino, however, said that he would not make accusations without evidence.