DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 March) – President Benigno Aquino reiterated Wednesday night the need for sobriety and “reasonable dialogue” to stop the crisis in Sabah from escalating, claiming the group that holed up in Lahad Datu for nearly a month now has endangered not only themselves but almost a million Filipinos living and working in Sabah and the 90 million Filipinos in the country.
“Para maganda ang usapan, dapat mahinahon. Dapat may tiwala sa isat isa at mag-usap ng resonable at may patutunguhan tayo (To have a good discussion, we should be sober. We should trust in each other and talk reasonably so we can proceed), the President said in his speech before endorsing Team PNoy, his administration’s senatorial bets for the mid-term elections in May.
Aquino was referring to the group of Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who sailed along with some 200 followers to Lahad Datu, Sabah in the second week of February, purportedly to assert their claim over Sabah but who has, the President said, endangered not only themselves but almost a million Filipinos living and working in Sabah and 90 million in the country.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had earlier said Kiram led a group of about 180, 30 of whom were armed.
The President said what happened in Sabah was clearly caused by “personal interest” and not for the majority of the people.
Kiram’s group arrived in Lahad Datu, Sabah on the second week of February (some reports put the date on the 9thr, others say the 12th) and holed up there, refusing to leave despite appeals from the President and Malaysian authorities.
On March 1, the Malaysian government announced the standoff was over, claiming Kiram’s group attacked security forces, killing two policemen.
Fifteen persons were killed on March 1, two of them Malaysian policemen. By Sunday, the death toll was placed at 27, eight of them Malaysian policemen.
On March 5, Malaysia launched aerial and ground attacks to “flush out” Kiram’s group from Lahad Datu. By March 6, reports from Malaysia said 13 more members of Kiram’s group were killed, bringing the death toll to 40.
The President said Kiram’s group is now facing the might of the Malaysian security forces.
“Di po ba’t imposible nilang makakamit ang kanilang inaasam (Isn’t it impossible for them to achieve their goal?),” Aquino asked.
Before violence broke out on March 1, the President had repeatedly asked the Sultan to order his men in Sabah to return to Mindanao and allow for the discussion of their complaints without use of arms.
“Ang gusto po yata nila ipadala po natin ang ating hukbong sandatahan at samahan sila sa marahas na pakipagbakbakan. Tulad ng pagtulak nila sa peligro sa ating mga kababayan, gusto ba nilang isubo na rin natin ang 90 milyong Pilipino sa kaguluhan (Did they want us to send our armed forces and join them in their violent struggle? In putting at risk our fellowmen (in Sabah), do they also want to put 90 million Filipinos here in danger?),” he said.
In Pilipino, he asked, “What do you want me to do? If we send the armed forces there, would the Malaysian government think that we are helping in the solution or worsening the problem?”
He said the armed forces should not be sent there. “If they go there unarmed, our forces might be hostaged. Our problem will worsen,” he said.
Before violence broke out on March 1, the President had repeatedly asked the Sultan in Taguig to order his men in Lahad Datu to “come home and let’s advance a reasonable talk about your concerns honestly, calmly and with open minds.”
He admitted that the issue and history of Sabah is complicated, but explained that the current issue is also about the safety of Filipinos and to ensure that they will be protected from the danger.
“As a President, it is my duty to defend the welfare and lives of our fellowmen at all times anywhere in the world,” he said.
He pointed out that should the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah return home, the government could not find jobs for them in a week as it is equivalent to almost a million jobs that the government provides every year to the increasing labor pool.
He said the Sabah issue had soured relationship with Malaysia from the early 1960s until a couple of years ago.
These days, he said, the relationship has improved much, citing Malaysia’s role in the ongoing peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Malaysia has been facilitating the talks since 2001.
After his speech, Aquino introduced the Liberal Party’s senatorial candidates in the presence of Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, together with some candidates of Duterte’s Hugpong Party, and Compostela Valley Govenor Arturo Uy, Representatives Maricar Zamora-Apsay, and Rommel Amatong and former Rep. Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora.
The Team PNoy candidates who were present were Grace Poe, Bam Aquino, Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros, Jamby Madrigal, Koko Pimentel, Loren Legarda, Sonny Angara, Ramon Magsaysay, Jr., and Ashley Acedillo who represented Antonio Trillanes. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)