Aquino links Arroyo people to the plot
President Benigno Aquino III said Monday that members of the past administration may have connived with the Kirams in launching the armed incursion in Sabah three weeks ago.
“There was connivance allegedly by certain members of the past administration in the formation of this. This is in violation of the Constitution,” Mr. Aquino said.
Asked if the conspiracy reached all the way to former President and now detained Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, Mr. Aquino said: “You’re asking me for a conclusion that I wish I have right now. But again unless we have the evidence that can be brought before the court that will prove the case, I will not make an accusation.”
The sultan’s daughter, Jacel Kiram, dared the President to present proof of his allegations.
“Our challenge to him is to prove it,” she said. “How can we respond to speculative statements? What we need to address is the situation now on the ground where the lives of the Filipinos are at stake.”
But the President justified the violent response by Malaysia against Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and his followers in Sabah that has left close to 30 people dead as the violence spread to neighboring areas.
Mr. Aquino confirmed speaking on Saturday with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who informed him that the Kirams had already crossed the line.
“The prime minister said negotiations can no longer be held at this point because there has already been a loss of lives, especially on the part of the Malaysians,” the President said.
“Let us be frank with each other: If the situation were reversed, and armed groups entered our own community, would it be possible for us to do nothing? Whatever your nationality may be, if there exists a threat to your safety, you would naturally retaliate and find a way to remove your citizens from harm’s way. How can you expect a reasonable discussion when you are pointing a gun to the face of those in the other side?”
Mr. Aquino also confirmed that his appeal to Najib centered on the fate of an estimated 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah who are not part of Kiram’s group.
“I appealed to him if it is possible not to involve our kababayan in Sabah who are living peacefully there. And he gave us an assurance that they would do their best to accommodate our appeal,” the President said.
Mr. Aquino insisted that people connived with the Kirams to reach the standoff in Sabah.
“Some of their identities are clear to us, while others continue to skulk in the shadows. The family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III could not possibly have settled on this course of action alone,” he said.
“We have also noticed how our critics have stuck to a single messaging line to exacerbate a situation that has already grown dire. They have made this 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,” the President added.
In a television interview, former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales denied rumors of his involvement in the Sabah crisis.
“Being a former national security adviser, I know the implications of such an armed incursion. So we will not do that even if we are not part of this administration,” Gonzales said. “I cannot understand why I am the favorite suspect whenever something goes awry.”
Gonzales said he was surprised that Jamalul, who ran and lost during the 2007 senatorial race under the Arroyo administration ticket, resorted to violence since he knew the 74-year-old sultan to be mild-mannered.
“He does not resort to violence. I think this happened because they have reached their breaking point from all the things they had to suffer,” Gonzales said.
Opposition senatorial candidate Ernesto Maceda said he was shocked by suggestions that former President Joseph Estrada, who is a friend of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, had financed the Sabah operation.
“My God! That’s far out and out of left field. Malacanang is looking for scapegoat to blame for its own neglect and failure to support our Muslim brothers in Sabah,” he said.
“Up to now, Malacanang has not taken a position supporting the claim to Sabah. In fact, they are inclined to [the view] that we should not take Sabah anymore. It’s embarrassing, and they are blaming people like President Estrada, who has nothing to do with it.”
Estrada laughed off talk that he was involved because of his friendship with former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who has been linked to the Sabah troubles.
He said he had not spoken with Anwar for over a year.
A spokesman for the Sulu Sultanate, meanwhile, denied that it has asked for help from the Moro National Liberation Front.
Abrahim Idjirani, the sultanate’s spokesman, said the Sulu Royal Army in Sabah led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram was being supported by Filipino immigrants and sympathizers who have experienced repression under the strict Malaysian rule.
“If MNLF wants to help, they have no capacity to transport people in Sabah,” Idjirani said, adding that the sultan has not asked MNLF leaders to serve as mediators.
But Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF’s Islamic Command Council, said they have sent reinforcements to Sabah to augment Agbimuddin’s forces.
The MNLF contingent reportedly breached the Malaysian cordon in Sandakan, another part of Sabah, and ambushed two truckloads of troops belonging to the Malaysian Territorial Army Regiment.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, on the other hand, said it would maintain a hands-off policy over the worsening crisis in Sabah.
“We reserve our comment…we prefer settlement,” MILF vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said in a phone interview.
Pressed what the MILF could do the help resolve the standoff, Jaafar again declined to comment, saying only that they were “confident” that the problem would be resolved peacefully to avert more bloodshed.
Jaafar also refused on the legitimacy of Kiram’s claim over Sabah.
In a radio interview, the chief negotiator of the MILF, Mohagher Iqbal, said it was MILF policy not to meddle, noting that Malaysia was a facilitator in its peace talks with the government.
But Iqbal said that in case the situation deteriorates, the peace panel might recommend for the MILF leadership to issue an official statement.
On Monday afternoon, the President dispatched Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario to Kuala Lumpur to appeal to Malaysian authorities to exercise “maximum tolerance.”
Del Rosario will meet with Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman to “continue discussions on how to avert further loss of lives.”
“Secretary del Rosario will also take this opportunity to personally convey the Philippine government’s requests for a full briefing by Malaysian authorities on the situation and for clearance for the Philippine Navy ship AT-296 Tagbanua to proceed to Lahad Datu to enable the Philippine medical personnel aboard to provide humanitarian and consular assistance and provide medical care to the wounded and ferry them and the remaining members of the group back to their respective homes and families,” the Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement.
Reports said separate clashes in Semporna, Sabah, have already killed 12 people on both sides and led to the capture of four Malaysian security personnel. The sultan reported more fighting was Monday.
In Manila, the sultanate advised its men not to hurt the Malaysian captives and treat them well instead and work for their safe release with the presence of international media.
More than 20 people have been killed since the standoff started in in the middle of last month.
The Philippine military chief and the Malaysian head of the International Monitoring Team of the Mindanao peace process met Monday afternoon to talk about the worsening conflict between the Malaysian security forces and followers of the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, sources told Manila Standard Today.
“The situation in Sabah has endangered the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. We believe the Sabah issue has been being used by some political quarters to sabotage the peace talks,” a senior security expert said. With Ferdinand Fabella