The Sulu Sultan says this would prevent further bloodshed and save lives
This was raised by sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani, who also called on Malaysia to let local and foreign journalists see for themselves that most of those who died in the latest assault by government forces were actually unarmed civilians.
His call came on the heels of an appeal from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for Malaysia and the sultanate’s forces to end the violence in Sabah.
The Moro National Liberation Front also pushed for the deployment of UN peacekeepers to Sabah to serve as “buffer force,” MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said in a text message to The Philippine STAR on Thursday.
Idjirani said the sultanate’s forces may be forced to fight back if Malaysian forces try to finish them off.
He said the campaign by Malaysian forces would be costly because the sultanate’s forces were trained in real battle in Mindanao, as many of them had fought the Philippine government as members of the MNLF.
“Until that is done, everything is subject to debate,” Idjirani said, referring to journalists being given access to Sabah. He said the sultanate lost only 10 fighters, contrary to Malaysia’s claim that it had killed 52 Filipinos.
Malaysian Federal Police chief Ismil Omar also said that one of those killed by his men held the rank of general in the so-called Royal Sulu Army.
On Thursday, Kiram declared a “cessation of hostilities” after Malaysia’s rejection of his unilateral ceasefire offer.
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they are asking Kuala Lumpur for full access to Filipinos affected by the hostilities in Sabah. He said the armed followers of Kiram comprised a small fraction of law abiding Filipinos in Sabah. He also said Kiram’s followers may have been lured into journeying to Lahad Datu in Sabah with a promise of $600.
Lacierda said President Aquino is in the process “of letting the Prime Minister (Najib Razak) know that there are ringleaders, there were others who were deceived.”
“We’ve seen also in some reports in media, that some of them… part of the royal sultanate forces, were paid $600, who were promised to be paid $600, they were promised land, they were promised positions in the sultanate. That is not being denied,” he said.
Lacierda stressed the Philippine position had always been for a peaceful end to the crisis.
“As we know there are around 10 Filipinos under detention by the Malaysian authorities. And the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) also trusts that the Filipinos will be given humane treatment by the Malaysian government,” Lacierda said.
On Malaysia’s rejection of Kiram’s ceasefire offer, “the President, the DFA, this government continue to exert all efforts and to explore all avenues towards a peaceful resolution,” Lacierda said.
Misleading the public
Lacierda said there had been attempts to confuse the public with accusations that the Philippines had effectively abandoned its Sabah claim by not helping the Kirams.
He said acting Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman had spoken with the sultan, his daughter Princess Jacel and brother, Ismael II to discuss their concerns and assure them of help in their Sabah claim, but through legal and peaceful means.
According to Hataman, the Kirams had made it clear that they had renounced the authority of the Philippine government to negotiate for them on Sabah but at the same time sought help to elevate their claim to an international forum.
Hataman said the Kirams also felt left out in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and wanted higher rent from Malaysia. The talks from Feb. 17 to 22 were held in the house of the Kirams and Bonifacio Global City, both in Taguig, and at the Resorts World in Parañaque City.
Hataman said the government had offered to bring Ismael and other members of the sultan’s family to Malaysia to meet with officials there but the Kirams changed their minds and wanted to talk instead in Brunei or Singapore.
Lacierda said they were coming out with the narration of events by Hataman only now because they had initially wanted backdoor negotiations to end the standoff peacefully and immediately.
Even if the Kirams had been changing their minds, Hataman said they still met with them on Feb. 25, the day before the President made his televised press conference. This time they decided not to cooperate with the government, he said.
“Now that some of our countrymen are under the custody of Malaysian authorities, we have asked the Malaysian government for us to visit those Filipinos under custody, to ask them to provide humane treatment for our people,” he said.
Despite pronouncements from the Kirams that the Sabah issue was between them and Malaysia, “the President is very categorical” in his wish that a group be formed to study the claim on Sabah.
Lacierda said they were verifying information and that it would now be up to the country’s intelligence service to provide explanation on how the sultan’s followers managed to go to Lahad Datu with their firearms.
“We want to know what happened here. But you must remember at the time… the borders are very porous. They do trade with Sabah; our Filipinos go to Sabah and the Sabahans also do trade with us, Filipinos here in the Basulta area. So that is what we are looking at now,” Lacierda said.
One option left
Foreign affairs officials said the only remaining option left for Kiram’s followers in Sabah is to lay down their weapons.
“At this point in time after the Malaysian government has rejected the call of Jamalul Kiram for a reciprocation of their declaration of unilateral ceasefire, it appears that the only option left for the Kirams in order to save lives with certainty is to lay down their arms,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said in a press briefing.
He said it’s always been the aim of the Philippine government to prevent bloodshed.
“Because there was a rejection from the Malaysian side it could be that this would be the last remaining option for the Kirams in order to save the lives of the remaining Filipino nationals in that area as well as to avoid further bloodshed,” he said.
He said the DFA handed another note verbale to Malaysia requesting full access to members of the sultanate’s army arrested by Malaysian authorities.
“We had requested a number of items with the Malaysian government, including allowing our Navy ship, the humanitarian ship to dock in Lahad Datu and we also asked for humanitarian corridor to allow women, children, and other civilians to be able to withdraw and go back to their homes,” he said.
“So far this has not yet been granted. Maybe they are still considering this request,” he added.
While vowing not to surrender, the forces of the sultanate were avoiding direct confrontation with Malaysian forces, a senior MNLF official said.
The official, who declined to be identified, said the sultanate’s gunmen have split into several groups to avoid being detected. He also described as propaganda Malaysia’s casualty figures.
“Photographs of dead bodies presented in a controlled press briefing in Lahad Datu the other day were altered to show that these were (sultanate) fighters when in fact, a colored photograph of the photograph presented to the media showed the dead bodies were all in black combat uniforms,” he said.
He said the sultanate’s fighters were in camouflage. It’s the Malaysian commandos who were usually in black.
The group of Agbimuddin is intact, he said.