MANILA, Philippines --- Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the Sultanate of Sulu yesterday ruled out his followers’ “disengagement” from Sabah as earlier floated by Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas II.
Last Monday, Roxas met with Bantilan Sultan Esmail Kiram III at Camp Crame in Quezon City to discuss the Sabah standoff.
After that meeting, Roxas held a press conference and revealed that an agreement has been reached for the Filipinos’ “disengagement” from Sabah.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), through spokesman Raul Hernandez, said yesterday that the “disengagement” plan was already communicated to Malaysia and government is waiting for its response.
But in a separate press conference held by Esmail, he made no mention of the “disengagement,” but revealed that he put forward “plans and strategies” without providing details.
Even Kiram III, who approved of Esmail’s meeting with Roxas, said his brother never mentioned about such “disengagement.”
“No, no, no,” was his report when asked if his brother told him about the “disengagement” plan.
He likened the standoff to a baseball game.
“Kumbaga sa baseball, nasa third base na ako, bakit pa ako aalis, mag-back out pa ako?” Kiram III asked as he reiterated that there will be no disengagement. (Like in baseball, I am already on third base. Why should I get out? Would I back out?)
Despite ruling out “disengagement,” Kiram III said his door is still open for talks with the government, saying his house is so near. The government must talk to him, he said.
He said Japan is very far, referring to President Benigno S. Aquino III’s meeting with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al-Hadji Murad Ebrahim in April 2011.
Sabah Claim Backed
As the standoff continues, several ethnic groups have expressed their full support to the Sultanate of Sulu’s claim on oil-rich Sabah island.
Among the Indigenous People (IPs) who had voiced their support for the Sabah claim are Manobo-Banwaon, Tausug, Manobo-Lapaknon, Kaagan/Mandaya, Bagobo Bawa, Talaandig, Lapaknon, Agusanon, Butuanon, Igaonon, Ubo Manobo, Bagobo Tagabawa, B’laan, Dibabaon, Maranao, Maguindanaon, and Higaonon.
Several of the country’s tribal people from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, such as Lumads, Moros, and Christians assembled in Davao City on March 8 for the Davao Tribal Summit convened by the National Coalition of the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Their 12-point covenant included their support to the sultanate’s claim over the disputed Sabah island in Malaysia.
Sabah, they asserted, is an “inseparable part of our ancestral domains.”
They expressed their collective sentiments on various issues facing them through a covenant signed by 51 of their leaders.
“We call upon our Lumad, Muslim, and Christian brothers and sisters nationwide to continue to work for Peace based on mutual respect, equality and justice,” they said.
Among others, they pointed to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the IPs, which they said grants them the “right to self-determination.”
Emanating from that right, they said its gives the “right to freely determine our political status and freely pursue our economic, social, and cultural development.”
Despite the standoff, the Philippines has no intention of dropping Malaysia as facilitator of the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Malaysia will continue to broker the peace talks especially since the concerned parties are already finalizing the peace agreement that seek to end decades-old insurgency in the south.
But Minority Leader Danilo Suarez and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said the Philippines could no longer rely on Malaysia to act objectively and independently that is required of a third party in peace negotiations.
“The Malaysian government has Filipino blood in their hands now. We can no longer rely on them to be an independent and objective third party as we pursue peace in Mindanao,” said Romualdez.
Suarez stressed that with the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu decided in pursuing its claim of Sabah, there is no way Malaysia would allow the Philippines to concentrate on such claim.
With the Sabah dispute still far from over, members of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) urged President Benigno S. Aquino III to look into the plight of Filipinos reportedly mistreated by Malaysian forces.
Former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri said the President should make a statement condemning the Malaysian treatment of Filipinos who are reportedly being treated inhumanely by Malaysian authorities.
“They treat us like dirt, trash…our fellowmen are being treated like dogs there. I really hope that the President do something about it. He should make a strong statement,” Zubiri said.
San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito-Estrada echoed Zubiri’s observation, saying they are in no way condoning the wrong move of the Sultanate of Sulu but said it is the government’s responsibility to defuse the tension brought by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s claim that the Sabah belongs to the Philippines.
“Let me be clear, we are not condoning what Kiram did, but the government should bear in mind to work for the interest of the Filipinos. The government has the responsibility to protect the welfare of all Filipinos,” Ejercito Estrada said.
As this developed, the Philippine Navy (PN) intercepted yesterday in Tawi-Tawi two motorized boats with 35 suspected followers of the Sultanate of Sulu.
PN spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Gerald Fabic said several firearms and ammunition were also found aboard the water craft.
Authorities have yet to establish exactly where the boats were headed when intercepted by the PN vessels, BRP Gen. Mariano Alvarez (PS38) and BRP Jose Andrada (PG370) around 6:30 a.m. off Andulingan island in Tawi-Tawi.
Fabic said that while they have information that one of the water craft had just arrived from Sabah and the other on its way to Malaysia, this remains to be verified.
The PN spokesman added that of the 35 people on board the two motorized boats, 34 were male and one female.
Following their apprehension, Fabic said the suspects were taken to Bato-Bato in Tawi-Tawi where they were to be turned over to the police.
Two members of the Royal Security Force were apprehended by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) near the Philippine-Malaysian border yesterday.
Lieutenant Commander Lawrence Roque, commander of Coast Guard Station Bongao, said they were spotted by PCG vessel BRP-EDSA (SARV-002) aboard a motor boat and armed with .45 caliber pistols, he added.
No Inhumane Treatment
Meanwhile, the government has not yet recorded any case of inhumane treatment of Filipinos in Sabah despite the reported litany of rights abuses at the hands of Malaysian authorities.
Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman said the government will file the appropriate protest against Malaysia once the complaints are gathered and verified.
“We have not recorded at this point any of the abuses that is talked about in media,” Soliman said in a Palace press briefing. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling, Hannah L. Torregoza, Elena L. Aben, and Raymund F. Antonio)