Tuesday, February 26, 2013

28. Aquino to sultan: Pull out or face charges

Aquino to sultan: Pull out or face charges

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President Benigno Aquino 3rd has given Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd an ultimatum on Tuesday, but the latter had said that his followers will fight for their right to stay in Sabah. MALACA√ĎANG AND AFP PHOTOS

SULTAN Jamalul Kiram 3rd and his followers may face charges for violating the Philippine Constitution, which renounces war as an “instrument of national policy” and for endangering the lives of Filipinos by their “foolhardy acts.”

President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself issued the stern warning on Kiram and his men, who continued to defy appeals for them to leave Lahad Datu town in Sabah and return home.

“And so this is my appeal to you: These are your people, and it behooves you to recall them. It must be clear to you that this small group of people will not succeed in addressing your grievances, and that there is no way that force can achieve your aims,” Aquino said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

“As President and chief executor of our laws, I have tasked an investigation into possible violations of laws by you, your followers and collaborators engaged in this foolhardy act,” he added.

He explained that as citizens of the republic, Kiram and his relatives are bound by the constitution and its laws.

The President also dropped hints that Kiram could not have acted alone in his quest and that the Muslim royalty could be enjoying support from a financier.

Aquino warned that the people behind the Sabah “instrusion” will suffer the full force of the law for conspiring to do prohibited acts.
The Chief Executive cited information indicating the Kirams could not have foot the bill in sending their followers to Sabah.

“We were given reports that they are not in very good financial condition. And we are also told that there are quite a large amount of money involved in ferrying people on launches from Tawi-Tawi to Sabah,” he said.

“Hence, the first logical question would be: Where did the funding come from? And who is funding them? So it seems clear at this point but we are still collating evidence that this was not an action just on their part,” he pointed out.

Kiram, however, stood his ground, saying that his brother, crown prince Raja Muda Abdimuddin Kiram and their supporters will stay put in Sabah.

He pledged that his followers will not initiate violence. But the Kirams claimed that they are prepared to defend their lives and aspirations.
Raja Muda is the leader of the group that is now in Sabah numbering to 230.

“History proves that the sultan of Sulu have never been involved in any violence in its quest for justice,” Kiram said in a statement read before the media at his house in Taguig City.

He told Mr. Aquino that they “also want peace.”

“We didn’t wage war in the Philippines unlike the other movements which went against the government after the Jabidah massacre in 1968, which is the basis now of peace process,” Kiram said.

The sultan assured the President that once an agreement between the sultan of Sulu and Malaysia has been reached, all arms will be returned to the Philippines and the 235 security forces will stay in Sabah.

“Mr. President, I, Sultan Jamalul kiram 3rd pledges that my brother, Datu Raja Muda Adbimuddin Kiram and our followers will not initiate violence and I will sign it with my blood and that of my brother but we are prepared to defend our lives and our aspiration,” Kiram said.

He added that there is sufficient proof that will show that Sabah is theirs, and that the mere fact that the Malaysian government is paying them 5,300 ringgit ($1,700) yearly further strengthens their claim.

Two former presidents of the Philippines and Malaysia also recognized them as the rightful owner of North Borneo. They were the late president Diosdado Macapagal and Malaysian president Soekarno.
Mr. Aquino said that among the provisions that may have been violated by the sultan and his followers is Article 2 Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, the enabling law of which is Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes those who “provoke or give occasion for a war . . . or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property.”

“My duty is very clear: it is to protect the interests of all of our people, and if that is not possible, then to do what will redound to the interests of the greatest majority. This is the time to demonstrate that you are a true leader both in name and deed. The right thing to do now would be to order your followers to return home as soon as possible,” he said.

“You are now fully aware of the consequences of your actions. The choices and consequences are yours. If you choose not to cooperate, the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm’s way,” Aquino stressed.

The President stressed that Kiram should use his influence “to prevail on countrymen to desist from this hopeless cause,” noting that the longer
Kiram’s followers stay in Sabah, the more they endanger not just their own lives, but also those of the thousands of Filipinos living and working in Sabah.

“Most of these people are your fellow Muslims. This is a situation that cannot persist. If you are truly the leader of your people, you should be one with us in ordering your followers to return home peacefully,” he added

800,000 Filipinos in Sabah
Also on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that some 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah may lose their jobs and face deportation if relations between the Philippines and Malaysia are strained by the Sabah standoff.

“That is the [possible] repercussion of this incident. Imagine 800,000 Filipinos will be deported, where will you put them? Gazmin said.

“The sultan should think about the consequence. As a leader, a recognized leader, he should consider the interest of the people. How can we provide jobs for 800,000 people?” Gazmin asked.

In fact, Gazmin said that the “barter” trade between Mindanao and Sabah has already stopped and prices of goods in Tawi-Tawi and nearby areas have also spiked because of the incident.

Gazmin stressed that the Kirams could easily end the problem peacefully if he would order his followers to leave Sabah and look for other ways to strengthen their claim on Sabah.

“There are other legal ways of claiming. Right now our government, our President has tasked a group, a legal team to study the claim of the sultan,” Gazmin pointed out.

Gazmin added that a Philippine Navy ship is now on the territorial boundary of Sabah and Mindanao waiting for the group of Kiram.

50 percent of Sabah’s income
Kiram, however, said that his troops would only lay down their arms if the Philippines and Malaysia agreed to negotiate terms for joint development of Sabah.

Pressed for details, Kiram’s adviser Abraham Idjirani told reporters the sultanate should receive as royalties 50 percent of proceeds from Sabah’s economic growth—potentially many millions of dollars.

But Kiram also said that his followers wanted to remain in Sabah even if a financial deal was struck.

“[They want to] peacefully settle in Sabah, which is our homeland,” he said.
Aquino said that the sultan had 180 followers in Sabah. But Kiram said that he had 235 members of the “Royal Armed Forces of sultan of Sulu and North Borneo” there.

However, Aquino cautioned that the sultan that he could not expect to test the Malaysian government’s patience indefinitely without repercussions.

“The avenue of peaceful and open dialogue is still available to us . . . we have not yet reached the point of no return, but we are fast approaching that point,” Aquino said.

Only through dialogue
Aquino said that the standoff in Sabah will not lead to peaceful resolution of the situation.

“The avenue of peaceful and open dialogue is still available to us. Let us therefore sit down as brothers to address your grievances in a peaceful, calm manner according to our laws and according to correct processes when your people arrive home,” he said.

Reports said that Malaysian security forces have been given the go signal to disarm the sultan’s followers in Sabah.

Sabah police commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib told reporters on Monday that heir troops could enter Tanduo village anytime to end the siege.

“It is only a question of right timing for us to act,’’ he said after a two-hour briefing in Lahad Datu.

Reports said that the crack VAT 69 Force is waiting for a signal to enter the village where the Filipinos have holed up. Hamza, however, was still hopeful that the standoff could be ended peacefully.

He also confirmed that five men suspected to be supporting the sultan’s group have been arrested and are being investigated.

AFP With a report Ffrom William B. Depasupil

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