The Philippine government has appealed to Malaysia to treat Filipino detainees humanely as possible in the wake of the Sabah standoff.
As this developed, Islamic clerics in Mindanao appealed to leaders of Malaysia and the Sultanate of Sulu to “fear Allah and act as true Muslims.”
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang has also asked Malaysian authorities to allow the Philippine government to have access to the detained Filipinos in Sabah for humanitarian purposes.
“The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has requested from the Malaysian government that the Philippine team in Lahad Datu be given full access to our people under detention,” Lacierda said.
“Around 10 Filipinos are under detention by Malaysian authorities and [we requested that they] be given humane treatment by the Malaysian authorities,” he said.
The Palace official said that though Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has rejected Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s offer for a unilateral ceasefire, the Philippine government continues to explore all options toward a peaceful resolution to the Sabah standoff.
“We continue to feel strongly [that] one way to save lives is to lay down their arms for them to be able to preserve their lives,” he added.
The Palace official, meanwhile, appealed to the daughter of Sulu Sultan Kiram III, Princess Jacel Kiram, to be consistent with her statements on the Sabah issue.
“Ang pakiusap namin kay [Our appeal to] Bb. Jacel Kiram, please be consistent with your statements,” Lacierda said, noting that the Philippine government has remained consistent with its statements from the beginning of the standoff.
Lacierda was reacting to reports that the princess of Sulu stated that the Philippines is allegedly bowing down to Malaysia.
He said that while the Kirams have been stating that the government is not helping them, at least four meetings had been held with the Kirams to address the Sabah issue.
He added that the brother of Sultan Kiram III, Ismael, was supposed to proceed to Malaysia and talk with Malaysian authorities but he was not allowed by the sultan.
“We tried to arrange Ismael Kiram to [go to] Malaysia to speak to Malaysian authorities,” Lacierda said. “We provided an aircraft for him to go to Malaysia. Unfortunately, Mr. Jamalul Kiram rejected it and said, ‘no, you can’t go to Malaysia’ and so where are we now? We continue to explore all possible means.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also said that with Malaysia’s rejection of the ceasefire, the only option left for Sultan Kiram III and his followers is to “lay down their arms” to save lives and prevent further bloodshed in Sabah.
But Abraham J. Idjirani, spokesman of Sultanate, called the statement inappropriate, saying it just manifests the truth that the DFA is “always the spokesman of the government of Malaysia.”
The Mindanao Islamic clerics issued the call to act as Muslims to the Malaysia and the Kirams as up to 60 people have died in the Sabah crisis.
But little, if not nothing, has been exerted to let the conflicting Malaysian and Sulu Sultanate leaders realize that they are all Muslims ordained to sacrifice anything that undermines Muslim brotherhood, a text message from a pool of Mindanao Islamic clerics, mostly imams, said.
Ustaz Mahmoud Ismael, a South Cotabato-based member of the Philippine Imams’ League, said that Malaysian authorities and the Sulu Sultanate may ignore calls for peaceful solutions to the Sabah row including that of the United Nations, but they “must follow Islamic commandments as professed by the Prophet Mohammad.”
“Muslims are like one body. The pain of a finger is felt by other parts of the body… Killing one Muslim is like slaying an entire community,” Ustaz Ismael said, citing the Prophet’s teachings.
“All creations including lands and nations belong to Allah. This is an Islamic principle Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Sultan Jamal Kiram III know and should respect,” Ismael said.
At a maswarah (informal caucus) preceding yesterday’s congregational prayers in Kidapawan City, mosque goers, including professionals from the academe and business sectors, said that all protagonists in the Sabah crisis, particularly Prime Minister Najib Razak should heed the appeal of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for an end to violence in Sabah.
In response to the UN call Thursday, Kiram had already declared a unilateral ceasefire among his followers in Sabah. But the prime minister ignored the peace initiatives, ordering their troops to pursue the Sultan’s followers until ejected off the disputed rich state.
Officials of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which had reportedly sent some cadres to reinforce Kiram’s followers in Sabah, deplored Najib’s call for the remnants of more than 200 “invading” Sultanate army to surrender.
Lawyer Manny Fontanilla, an MNLF faction spokesman, said that with Malaysia’s rejection of Kiram’s ceasefire offer, the UN should consider sending peacekeeping forces in Sabah to quell bloodshed.
Meanwhile, Mindanao’s Islamic clerics also urged the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a 57-nation Pan-Arab alliance, to help mediate in the Sabah crisis.
“The OIC has been touted as an influential body of Muslim nations. It’s time it proves its true might now over the Sabah problem,” Ustaz Saduddin Kamlon said in a text message to Manila Bulletin.
As the standoff continues, the Philippine Navy (PN) announced yesterday that its forces in Tawi-Tawi intercepted two motor launches with Filipino evacuees from Sabah on board.
Navy spokesman Lt. Cdr. Gregory Gerald V. Fabic said PN vessels conducting naval blockade at the boundaries of Sabah and Malaysia spotted the two motor boats around 6:30 a.m. yesterday, carrying 121 people, more than 3,000 sacks of rice, and assorted foodstuff.
The passengers were from Sandakan in Sabah and heading to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.
Meanwhile, two Manila councilors said the 1987 Constitution provision that describes the territorial extent of the Philippines has weakened the country’s claim over Sabah.
Councilors Edward Tan (Second District) and Ernesto Dionisio (First District) said they have called the attention of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, United Nationalist Alliance mayoral candidate in Manila, on this constitutional controversy and asked him to join a campaign to amend the Constitution to address the problem.
The local officials said that “we have to restore back a phrase in the Constitution, specifically on Section 1 of the National Territory which was provided under the 1973 Constitution but deleted in the 1987 Constitution”.
Tan stated that under the 1973 Constitution, the national territory is defined to comprise the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands waters embraced therein and all other territories belonging to the Philippines by “historic or legal title.”
This phrase was deleted by framers of the 1987 Constitution, he added. (With reports from Elena L. Aben, Roy C. Mabasa, and Ben R. Rosario)