Aquino mulls charges vs Sulu sultan, followers

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 March) — President Benigno Aquino III said Thursday he has ordered the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to gather evidence that may warrant the filing of charges against Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers whose action in Sabah has triggered clashes with Malaysian forces.

In a press conference after his speech at the opening ceremony of the Meetings, Incentive Travels, Conventions, Exhibitions and Events Conference here, Aquino told reporters that he wanted to know the specifics about the Sabah issue.

“Until we have the investigation, there will be conclusions, there will be determination of whether it warrants the filing of charges… We will find tomorrow, the next day. So we are still in the investigation first,” he said.

He said the DOJ has been studying “what we are empowered to do by our laws and various treaties and agreements that we have entered into over the years.”

The President hinted the government may consider extraditing the sultan [to Malaysia] to face charges here. The Philippines has no extradition treaty with Malaysia.

But Julkipli Wadi, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman, warned in an interview Thursday with ABS-CBN News Channel that such move could create an uproar not only among Filipino Muslims but among Filipinos in general.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters in Manila Thursday that Aquino has ordered them to prepare an “airtight case” against Kiram and his men.

In mid-February, some 200 members of the so-called Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu led by Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the sultan’s brother, settled in Sabah’s Lahad Datu town to assert their long-standing claim on the Malaysian state.

Kiram’s followers ignored calls by the President for them to leave Sabah, triggering a standoff that eventually led to a series of armed clashes between them and Malaysian forces since Friday last week. As of Wednesday, the death toll was already 40.

Kiram’s group declared Thursday noon a unilateral ceasefire, to prevent further loss of lives. But top Malaysian officials rejected the truce offer.

Aquino said at least 10 Philippine Navy and coast guard vessels were “manning a blockade to prevent anybody from adding to the troubles that are happening right now in Sabah.”

He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development “has been in contact with the families of those suspected to be there” to attend to their needs, while the PNP is “securing everybody so that there are no collateral incidents that might happen.”

He added that Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II is “dialoguing now with various Muslim groups. He is presently in Basilan, trying to explain what the government has been doing, what the aims of the government are.” (Lorie Ann Cascaro with a report from H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)