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Phl intensifies naval blockade in Sulu Sea

MANILA, Philippines - The military has started enforcing a naval blockade in Sulu Sea to prevent undocumented Filipinos from entering Sabah amid the continuing standoff between the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysian security forces, the Department of National Defense (DND) said Friday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin stressed that while the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu may have basis in reclaiming Sabah as their ancestral land, the process they are pursuing right now is wrong.

“We have put up a naval blockade in the area so that we could stop our undocumented fellow Filipinos from leaving (for Sabah),” Gazmin said.

The Philippine Navy (PN) announced earlier that it has deployed six naval gunboats in the country’s southern backdoor as tension mounted in Sabah with the Malaysian authorities issuing an ultimatum group of Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, to leave Lahad Datu by Friday (yesterday) "or else."

This move was apparently in response to reports that several groups of Filipino Muslims are all poised to reinforce their Tausog brothers in Sabah if Malaysia security forces will use force to dislodge them.

Datu Raja Muda along with around 200 followers went to Sabah, under the royal orders of the Sultanate of Sulu issued Sultan Jamalul Kiram III,( his brother), to press their reclaim bid for their ancestral land last week.

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Gazmin pointed out that while the reclaim bid by the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu may have basis as evidence by the annual rentals being paid by the Malaysian government to Sultanate, the issue could have been first settled here in the country and not at Lahad Datu.

“It goes without saying that fact that rental is being paid, para saan yong libong ringgits. But yong karapatan (to go Sabah) hindi sirguro ako maniniwala doon because pwede mo namang ayusin (claim) mo dito bago pumunta doon. In other words, yong prosesong ginawa nila ay parang hindi tama,” Gazmin said.

To help defuse and bring the stand-off in Lahad Datu to a peaceful conclusion, Gazmin said he and his Malaysian counterpart are closely coordinating their actions. The same, he said, is being done by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with its Malaysian military counterparts.

“We are coordinating. Nag-uusap din ang dalawang commanders (AFP and Malaysia). There is an ongoing information exchanges,”  he said.

When the group of Datu Raja Muda landed in Sabah, Gazmin said the Malaysian security forces seized 20 firearms from the group.

The Philippine government, he added has convinced Sultan Ismael Kiram, to make representations his brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, to order Datu Raja Muda and his followers  to return to the country.

“The idea here is for Sultan Ismael to go Lahad Datu to convince Datu Raja Muda to return to the country peacefully,” Gazmin said.

Over reports that the Sabah standoff is part of a grand design to derail the government peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao, the defense department is now conducting an investigation to determine its authenticity.

“We are looking into that. We have not had any conclusive information to that effect,” Gazmin said.

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