Palace to sultan: No return of followers, no talks
Cecille Suerte Felipe, Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Only after the return of his followers to the Philippines from their dugout in Sabah will the government negotiate with Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III regarding his claim on the territory.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II made this clear yesterday in a television interview where he also accused Kiram of taking the government hostage to press his claim.

“No government will allow itself to be placed under the gun or under duress or taken hostage. The nation is being held hostage and lives are in danger,” Roxas said in Filipino.

He said Kiram and his more than 200 mostly armed followers should not doubt the sincerity of President Aquino when the latter declared that he wanted the Sabah standoff to end peacefully. “Remove the danger, we can always talk,” he said.

He said the President is known for always keeping his word, thus earning him the trust of several groups including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

He said the administration is thankful that the Malaysian government has again extended the deadline for the Filipinos holed up in Lahad Datu to leave the area.

Roxas also said the President has sent Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo and Philippine National Police Directorate for Intelligence chief Director Cipriano Querol to talk with Kiram’s group.

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said that while they were vigorously working to end the impasse peacefully, “this cannot go on interminably.”

“You’ve seen our action. We asked for an (extension) of the deadline, hoping that they will change their position, and we’re still there. We are still trying to resolve this peacefully,” he said.

“What the government has been asking them to do is: Let’s take out that potential (for violence) by asking your armed people to come home,” Lacierda said.

“I think that’s a fairly reasonable request. We have sent emissaries to speak to them to precisely address that issue. Let’s defuse the tension in Lahad Datu,” he said. “The Kirams would like to speak to us. What we’re saying is: Let’s do it in a way where… the tense situation has been resolved and we can discuss (in) an objective, prudent atmosphere,” he said.

“We did not start this. What we’re trying to do is to protect our national interest. We’re also trying to protect and prevent a possible violent outcome,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda explained that the Department of Foreign Affairs is in touch with the Malaysian foreign ministry and the Malaysian ambassador to Manila.

He said the Kirams may have been misled into thinking that the emissaries sent by Manila were on a mission to arrest them.

“I didn’t hear Secretary Mar Roxas say that. The principal issue for sending an emissary is to come up with a peaceful resolution,” Lacierda said.

“That’s their spin, that’s what (Kiram’s spokesman Abraham) Idjirani has been saying. Idjirani, if you’ve listened to his various interviews, has maintained a defiant stand from the very beginning,” he said.

“While they sound nice, they sound respectful, the essence of their discussion – the essence of his statement is: ‘We refuse to leave Sabah.’ That’s the end-all and be-all of whatever interviews you get from their side,” Lacierda said.

“What we’re saying is: Between the two of us, let’s try to avoid bloodshed. Let’s try to defuse the tense situation in Lahad Datu and that’s the goal of this government. We also have to be concerned with the 800,000 Filipinos there in Sabah, and that’s the purpose for sending emissaries,” he said.

“The forces that are there are not Philippine forces. The forces that cordoned the area are Malaysian forces,” he pointed out.

“While we are trying to avoid bloodshed, the Kiram side is saying: ‘We are willing to die. We are willing to shed blood here.’ What we’re saying is: Let’s resolve this peacefully. Who wants a peaceful resolution?” he said.

Asked how long the government is willing to wait, Lacierda said: “You know, your question presupposes and clearly shows the patience of this government – the willingness of this government to go the extra mile in exerting all means to come up with a peaceful resolution.”

‘Political harassment’

For the followers of Sultan Kiram, the Aquino administration’s order for them to leave Sabah was “political harassment.”

“They just want to keep us silent from speaking,” Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the Sultanate, told The STAR.

Idjirani said the sultan and members of his family as well as his followers are also willing to appear before the Department of Justice (DOJ) to answer allegations that they were violating laws.

“We can’t do anything if summoned by the DOJ. There is no justice,” he said.

Idjirani said the sultanate does not even have a legal team to defend itself.

Idjirani scored the government for apparently siding with Malaysia over the Sabah issue.

Idjirani also clarified reports that Malaysian troops have entered Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu where the sultanate’s Royal Army has been holed-up since Feb. 9

Idjirani also said that if there is anyone who should be jailed, it’s the Malacañang staff who had lost the sultan’s letter to Aquino.

The President earlier admitted the letter may have been lost “in the bureaucratic maze” when his administration was still being organized.

“Why should we be sent to jail when we only want to return home?”

Idjirani also welcomed the support being offered by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by its chairman Nur Misuari.

He stressed, however, that the sultan and his council would have to examine the MNLF’s statement of support.

In a radio interview, Misuari reaffirmed his support for the sultanate but denied that the MNLF was on red alert and preparing for armed confrontation with Malaysian forces.

“I do not know where the report came from; there is no order for the MNLF to go on red alert,” he said over radio dzMM.

Misuari stressed the MNLF is not involved in the ongoing standoff in Lahad Datu and that he had even sent an appeal to Prime Minister Najib Razak not to harm the group.

He admitted, however, that some of the young men who joined the group were regular members of the MNLF.

He said the MNLF has ruled out the use of force in reasserting the Sabah claim.

But MNLF chief of political affairs Haji Gapul Hajirul said there appeared to be a buildup of forces sympathetic to the sultan near Lahad Datu.

The Philippine Navy has deployed six gunboats between Tawi-Tawi and Sabah to prevent armed civilians from leaving for Sabah.

“The MNLF is carefully weighing the whole situation. We hope that the Malaysian authorities will not forcefully violate the rights of Sultan’s followers. If that happens, that would be a different story,” Hajirul said.

On Wednesday, Malaysian security forces tried to enter the area where the sultan’s followers were holed up but later backed off. With Edu Punay, Rainier Allan Ronda, Jaime Laude, Perseus Echeminada, Mike Frialde



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