MANILA, Philippines—Calling President Benigno Aquino III a modern Pontius Pilate, around 40 Moro and other militants demonstrated outside the Malaysian Embassy in Makati on Tuesday to condemn what they described as the President’s passivity in the face of continuing violence in Sabah that has killed at least 27 people.
“During this Holy Week, demons come out, including Pontius Pilate—in the name of President Aquino—who keeps on blaming others and appears more like the spokesperson of the Malaysian people,” said Anthony Liongson of the Moro Christian People’s Alliance, a group supporting Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s territorial claim to Sabah.
Pontius Pilate is a biblical character who washed his hands to deny any responsibility for the fate of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion.
“President Aquino blames other people, saying there are other party claimants to the issue, the people in Sabah, but (he) never really checked and assumed responsibility on the issue. The claims of Filipinos in Sabah have historical legitimacy,” Liongson said.
Around 9:45 a.m., the protesters including less than 20 from Sulu, and some representatives from the militant groups Katribu Partylist, Migrante, Bayan Muna, among others, expressed their disappointment with the President’s way of dealing with critical issues, particularly the claim to Sabah.
Bearing placards, they called Aquino a traitor to Moro citizens.
The President has strongly criticized the action of Kiram’s followers, warned the sultan he could be charged and arrested, question Kiram’s claim to the throne and ordered that his men in Sabah surrender without conditions, without expressing a word of support for the long dormant Philippine claim to Sabah.
“This mass demo is a message to the President that the fight is not just between Malaysia and the Kirams and the Sulu government,” Liongson said. “What we’re voicing out here is the improper way of how the government responds to crisis situations.”
“Our countrymen are already at the lion’s mouth, and they are pushed into its throat; they are at the cliff’s edge, and still they are being pushed,” he added.
“(But) the problem here is, the president has been giving ultimatum through the media; he should have talked and given instructions to Kiram, face to face,” Liongson said.
Yusuf Ledesma of the Coalition of Supporters for the Sultan of Sulu said Aquino did not just ignore Kiram’s call for help. “Instead of acting as a knowledge broker, the Aquino government scolded the Sultan and castigated him in public in front of everybody… Why would you delimit the center of our claim? As a Ppresident it is his responsibility to protect the Philippine territory. If you give up the claim, you make it dormant.”
Liongson accused Mr. Aquino of acting like Malaysia’s spokesman from the start by asking the Moros to surrender.
“It’s like giving Malaysia a go signal, especially that he said the government has no accountability if something bad happens,” Liongson said, adding, “No good president will do that; It’s the president’s responsibility to defend his people.”
In a statement, Migrante said it was the Aquino government that “virtually emboldened and gave license to Malaysia to instigate an attack against Filipinos in Sabah.
“If not for the Philippine government’s passivity and inaction to protect the national interest, the Sabah stand-off would not have ended in bloodshed.”
Migrante added that they feared Malaysia would intensify a crackdown on overseas Filipino workers, especially those without documents.