MANILA, Philippines — After over a month of military operation against Agbimuddin Kiram and his men, Malaysian authorities had declared the crisis in Sabah “under control,’’ Philippine officials said on Sunday.
National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia said the Malaysian forces have started conducting a “small unit’’ operation against the remnants of Agbimuddin’s group who were believed to have broken up in groups in Lahad Datu town, Sabah.
“It’s a small unit operation. That’s how it is right now. They think the group has broken into small groups and scattered in different villages,’’ Garcia said in an interview by phone.
And then on March 19, the Malaysian authorities downgraded the alert level from red to amber in Lahad Datu, more than a month after Agbimuddin and members of the Sulu royal army landed there on Feb. 12 to press the Sultanate of Sulu’s claim to Sabah, according to Garcia.
“For Malaysia having downgraded the alert level would indicate that they’ve got the situation under control,’’ he said.
Acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said Monday last week that the Malaysian authorities had declared the crisis over. He said even a humanitarian team from the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur had been allowed inside Lahad Datu.
Also on Tuesday, while he did not confirm Hataman’s statement, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that Agbimuddin’s group had been “decimated.’’
Meanwhile, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the government would also extend legal assistance to an alleged commander of the Sulu royal army and his wife who were recently captured by the Malaysian authorities.
“As the President said, we would be extending assistance… It’s not dependent on whether you believe in their cause or not but, the fact is, they will be facing charges and we will be extending assistance,’’ Valte said over government-run dzRB.
As of Sunday, Garcia said he had no information if Datu Amirbahar Hushin Kiram, 50, and wife Gina Taves Kiram, 47, who were captured in a swampy area in Kampung Sri Melor Bugaya, Semporna, last Saturday, were part of Agbimuddin’s group.
The President had ordered embassy officials in Kuala Lumpur to provide lawyers for the eight Filipinos charged with terrorism and rebellion in connection with Agbimuddin’s incursion into Lahad Datu.
The fate of Agbimuddin, brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, remained unknown.
Garcia said the government has received conflicting reports: either he was still there in Lahad Datu or that he had sailed back to the Philippines.
“The Malaysians are convinced that he’s still there,’’ Garcia said, quoting news reports from Malaysia.
Hataman, the government’s emissary to the Kiram clan, has disclosed that Agbimuddin had phoned him and other government officials a few times asking to be “picked up’’ after a firefight broke out on March 1.
His request was relayed to the Malaysian government, but this was rejected because by that time, it had launched its operation against his group. Hataman last talked with Agbimuddin hours before he and other ARMM governors appeared with the President in a televised briefing on Sabah on March 4.
Meanwhile, naval authorities continued to monitor the arrival of boats from Sabah in Mindanao and try to determine if the passengers were undocumented Filipinos or were members of Agbimuddin’s group, Garcia said.
The Navy had intercepted two boatloads of 38 alleged followers of Agbimuddin with assorted firearms in the waters off Tawi-Tawi two weeks ago. The government has filed charges against them.