MANILA, Philippines --- President Benigno S. Aquino III yesterday warned that those who conspired to lead the Sabah standoff, including those from the past administration, will be held accountable and be dealt with the full force of the law.
He issued the warning in a press briefing late yesterday afternoon on the continuing standoff in Sabah between Malaysian authorities and the “royal army” of the Sultanate of Sulu.
“Sa mga taong nasa likod nito, ngayon pa lang sinasabi ko sa inyo, hindi kayo magtatagumpay. Pananagutin natin ang nagkasala sa bansa,” he said.
“The Constitution sanctions any armed force besides the AFP. Is there not a provision against private armed groups? They are obviously, by any definition, an armed group,” Aquino said.
“And meron yatang connivance allegedly with members of the past administration in the formation of this (armed group), which is in violation of the Constitution and various other laws of the land,” he said, noting that inciting to war has a penalty under the Revised Penal Code.
“When you have an armed group that goes into an area administered by a different nation, can that not be considered an act of war by some of our citizens? And the Revised Penal Code has a specific law that penalizes people who incite others to war amongst other things,” Aquino said.
The President said the Department of Justice (DOJ) is preparing pieces of evidence that will stand in court against those who conspired that led to the standoff in Sabah.
In that same press briefing, President Aquino said Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s family could not have done it alone without the support of these conspirators, whom he did not identify.
“Hindi kakayanin ng angkan ni Sultan Jamalul Kiram III na gawin mag-isa ang gaintong pagkilos. Kapansinpansin din ang nag-iisang linya ng kritiko para gatungan ang malubha nang sitwasyon,” he said.
“Ilan po sa kanila ay nakikita natin, habang ang iba naman ay nagkukubli pa rin sa dilim,” he said.
He pointed out that Kiram is currently undergoing dialysis for his kidney ailment and it would cost him a lot to shell out money to fund for his followers’ journey to Sabah to claim their land in Lahad Datu.
The President also slammed critics for worsening the situation, saying they are only putting the lives of innocent fellowmen in Sabah at stake.
“Alam naman po natin kung alin ang delubyong tadhana ang may gawa, at kung alin ang talagang sinadya. Ang masakit ngayon, pinili ng ilang tao na mangyari ito, at sadyang inilagay sa panganib ang napakaraming Pilipino (We all know what kind of catastrophe was caused by fate and those that were done deliberately. What is painful is that some people have chosen to do this amid the danger it could cause to their fellowmen),” he said.
The President meanwhile reiterated his call on Kiram to stop the armed violence in Sabah and return home so they could conduct a peaceful dialogue on their territorial claim to Sabah.
President Aquino also revealed that he has secured the commitment of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to spare the innocent Filipinos caught in the middle of the conflict in the disputed area.
The President said he made the appeal to Najib about the welfare of the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah during their phone conversation last Saturday.
The Malaysian leader contacted Aquino to inform him about his government’s drastic action to deal with the Sulu gunmen pressing claim over Sabah following the shootout that killed a number of Malaysian policemen.
“I appealed to him that if possible, the Filipinos numbering 800,000 who are not involved will not be affected. He gave us an assurance that they will try to do this,” the President said in Filipino.
Aquino also dismissed reports about a supposed crackdown against Filipinos in Sabah as “alarmist.” He explained that some undocumented Filipinos are regularly deported back to the Philippines as part of the rules and regulations of Malaysia.
No Room For Negotiations
Giving more details about his phone conversation with the Malaysian leader, Aquino said he was informed that there was no longer room for negotiations with the Sulu gunmen following the death of Malaysian citizens.
Najib also gave the Malaysian troops the authority to end the standoff after the people of Malaysian expressed anger over the armed intrusion by the supporters of the Sulu sultan according to Aquino. He said Malaysia was hoping for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the three-week standoff but “the line has been crossed” when their people were killed.
Shortly after their conversation, President Aquino issued a statement calling for the unconditional surrender of the armed supporters of the Sulu sultan to avoid further bloodshed.
The President said he has directed Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to talk to his Malaysian counterpart to stop further bloodshed in Sabah. Aquino said they are also “exploring all possibilities” to ease the tension in Sabah as well as attain justice. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)