Palace justifies Sabah probe

Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - March 10, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - An investigation into the conspiracy angle in the Sulu sultanate’s sending of armed men to Sabah is justified and consistent with efforts to end the violence in the territory immediately, Malacañang said yesterday.

The Palace made this clear a day after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) summoned the sultanate’s adviser Pastor “Boy” Saycon for questioning on Tuesday on suspicion that he was part of a conspiracy to create unrest in Sabah by making hundreds of mostly armed followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III sail to the territory and claim it as their own.

Saycon is secretary general of the Council for Philippine Affairs or COPA.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over radio dzRB that it is important to determine why the situation had erupted into violence and led to the death of 60 people. She said the government had explored various avenues to end the impasse.

Saycon has admitted acting as an adviser to Kiram when the sultanate brought its Sabah claim to the United Nations. He said he has been advising the sultan on foreign, economic and cultural relations for the past 12 years.

He had earlier denied instigating the sultanate’s army to go to the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah last month.

He also said that he was working on his own with Kiram on the Sabah claim, and that COPA members – including presidential uncle Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. and wife Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco – had nothing to do with the sultan.

Valte said it is President Aquino’s wish that an investigation go side by side with efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

She said the government’s move is also consistent with calls from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Malaysia and the sultanate’s forces immediately end the armed hostilities in Sabah.

Malacañang earlier said President Aquino would inform Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak about the conspiracy behind the Sabah incursion as well as the identity of the “ringleaders.”

Valte echoed the UN’s wish for the situation to be resolved peacefully as soon as possible.

She said that from the very beginning, the government had vigorously worked to stave off bloodshed in Sabah and asked the Kirams and their followers to stand down, come back and discuss their claim peacefully.

The President is questioning the financial capability of the Kirams and their followers to go to Lahad Datu with firearms and provisions. Earlier, the Palace said Kiram’s followers had been lured into sailing to Sabah with a promise of $600 each.

Authorities are looking into the possibility that the Sabah incursion was meant not just to internationalize the claim of the Kirams but also to embarrass both the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia as well as make them hostage to their demands.

Kuala Lumpur is brokering the peace talks between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Najib is running for re-election.

Administration officials said the timing of the Lahad Datu incident was suspect and that there seemed to be a concerted effort to portray the Aquino administration as sympathetic to Malaysia and no longer interested in pursuing the country’s Sabah claim.

‘Real conspiracy’

For the Kirams and their supporters, the “real conspiracy” was the one between the Aquino administration and Malaysia’s ruling party UMNO.

In a press briefing yesterday at the sultan’s Taguig City residence, his daughter princess Jacel called on the public not to believe the conspiracy theory being peddled by the government.

Najib and his UMNO are gearing up for Malaysia’s election this month.

Jacel said the administration has raised the conspiracy angle “purely for political exigency and popularity.”

“This issue to them is not important, especially on election time in Malaysia. To gain points instead of adhering to the call of the United Nations for a peaceful resolution, Najib did the opposite. He ordered a more ferocious offensive bombardment, ordering seven battalions to pulverize the Sultanate’s royal army, disregarding the preservation of life,” she said.

“Today, the imaginary conspiracy was propagated through text messaging to divert attention away from the true issue. The conspiracy theory is an insult to the Filipino people and to the sultanate of Sulu, more so to the Raja Muda (Agbimuddin) and his people,” she added.

Jacel said Malacañang hatched the conspiracy theory to appease Malaysia, which is helping facilitate the peace negotiations with the MILF as well as divert the public’s attention from the violence in Sabah, where most of the casualties were Filipinos.

“How can P-Noy (Aquino) allow the Filipinos in Sabah to be sacrificial lambs in order to protect the political ambition of Najib, at the same time propping up the declining credibility of the President in crisis management?” she said.

“I call on the Filipino people to be more circumspect and not allow disinformation to formulate their beliefs,” she added.

Saycon earlier told The STAR that he was being summoned by the NBI for being a supporter of Kiram.

“I suspect it would be because of the recent developments and the entry into Sabah,” Saycon said.

Saycon said he would appear at the NBI office at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. He said he expects more of the sultan’s supporters to be subpoenaed by the NBI.

“It is anticipated that supporters of the sultan will be charged. They are now preparing the ground for more subpoenas,” he said.

“The threat of government has been lingering for the past two weeks,” he added.

Saycon added that the sultanate has already assembled a team of lawyers in preparation for the filing of charges against him and the sultanate’s supporters.

“We have a legal team that has been studying for the past week the possible charges to be filed,” he said. 

Meanwhile, former National Security Adviser and ex-Defense secretary Norberto Gonzales said he is ready to face whatever charges the government would file against him in connection with the Sabah standoff.

“Why not?” Gonzales said in a text message in response to The STAR’s query if he too is willing to submit himself to an inquiry.

Gonzales served as national security adviser and defense chief of then president and now detained Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He earlier denied any involvement in the Sabah incident, but admitted visiting Kiram in Taguig City before the Sabah standoff.

He said his friendship with Kiram dates back to the Marcos regime when they were fighting the dictator.

“If my being a friend and a brother to the sultan makes me a conspirator, so be it,” Gonzales said.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), on the other hand, said the government’s mishandling of the Sabah standoff could revive moves by its members for an independent state in Mindanao.

MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said any invitation for their chairman (Nur Misuari) to appear at the NBI would be handled by the MNLF legal department.

“The matter will be decided by the legal department but we would like to point out that the MNLF is a rebel group with peace and ceasefire agreement with the government,” Fontanilla said.

Misuari had been visiting Kiram almost daily before the standoff, Fontanilla said.

Actor Robin Padilla, who has been actively helping the sultan with his medical needs, has also been visiting the sultan’s residence in Maharlika Village in Taguig City regularly. – With Mike Frialde, Jaime Laude

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