Aquino: Government probing ‘conspiracy’ in Sabah standoff

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Monday, March 4, 2013

MANILA - Authorities are investigating some people from the previous administration who could be conspiring with the Kirams, a Muslim royal clan from Sulu, in sending armed men to Sabah, Malaysia, President Benigno Aquino III said Monday.

The Chief Executive vowed in a press conference Monday that those who were behind the Sabah standoff, which already left at least 30 people dead, would be held accountable.

"We are aware that there are those who conspired to bring us to this situation -- a situation that has no immediate solutions. Some of their identities are clear to us, while others continue to skulk in the shadows," he said.


"The family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III could not possibly have settled on this course of action alone. We have also noticed how our critics have stuck to a single messaging line to exacerbate a situation that has already grown dire," the President added.

He said the Kirams made the issue worse, and “they are doing this even as their actions place thousands of Filipinos in danger.”

“To the people who are behind this, even now, I tell you: you will not succeed. All those who have wronged our country will be held accountable," Aquino stressed.

He said he received information of "connivance allegedly by certain members of the past administration" regarding the landing of armed Filipinos to Sabah, which is in violation of the Constitution.

The President, however, refused to name the possible conspirators, saying authorities were still collating evidence.

He indicated that the Kiram family could possibly not afford to send some 200 people to Lahad Datu, Sabah without the help of other people.

Aquino said Sultan Kiram has been undergoing dialysis and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office has been supporting him.

"So, even in terms of attending to his own health, he needs assistance," he said.

"I am told that renting a boat, a sufficiently large boat, to go to Sabah costs about a hundred thousand pesos. And there were two boats, at least, and one speedboat that was used by this group," he added.

In the same press conference, Aquino said he talked with Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak early Saturday morning and he asked Razak to ensure the safety of some 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah who are not Kiram's followers.

"I also asked that the Filipinos, around 800,000 of them who are living peacefully in Sabah and are not involved (in the incident), be spared," he said, adding that Razak gave him assurance to protect them.

Razak explained to Aquino why he ordered the Malaysian authorities to end the three-week standoff between the Kiram's followers and the Malaysian forces.

Aquino said he also ordered Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to discuss with his counterpart other possible means to end the problem peacefully. Del Rosario left for Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

The President faced the media with the local officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) behind him who also called on the followers of Kiram to "peaceably come home" to prevent further bloodshed.

"We the leaders of the Filipino Muslim community have been watching developments in Lahad Datu and our concern about the violence that has already caused the lives of our Muslim brothers, Filipinos and Malaysians alike," said the governors that include Mujiv Hataman (Armm), Esmael Mangudadatu (Maguindanao), Sakur Tan (Sulu), Sadikul Sahali (Tawi-Tawi), Jum Akbar (Basilan), and Mamintal Adiong Jr. (Lanao del Sur).

The Armm governors also appealed to the Aquino administration to continue to work toward achieving peaceful resolution to the claim of Kiram's group over Sabah.

"Let us settle the issue of Sabah in a peaceful and honorable way. We all want peace with dignity and justice and we can achieve it by working together in a peaceful manner," they said in a statement.

But international law expert Harry Roque said the government has appeared ignorant of the Sabah claim.

"Governments' initiatives to still study the Sabah claim bring to mind the legal saying that 'ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith.' In this regard, Philippine authorities should blame themselves for their ignorance of the Sabah claim. They should certainly not be negligent in their obligation to provide protection to Filipinos overseas because of their own ignorance," he said.

The Kirams from Sulu has been claiming the land in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu, Sabah for nearly a century. Raja Muda Agbimuddin, crowned prince of Sulu, and his followers went to Sabah last February 12 to reclaim the resource-rich territory but they were surrounded instead by Malaysian security forces for being security threats.

Nineteen Filipino gunmen have been slain since Friday in skirmishes.

On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Razak sent hundreds of soldiers to Sabah to help neutralize the armed Filipino intruders. He also ordered the intelligence authorities to investigate a claim that an opposition leader had a hand in the armed intrusion in Lahad Datu.

He said the allegation was a serious matter but there must be strong evidence to identify the mastermind. (SDR/AP/With Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)

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