FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio -- Before the armed conflict in Sabah worsens, President Benigno S. Aquino III is pushing for a peaceful and reasonable dialogue with concerned parties to resolve the conflicting claims over the territory.
The President once again denounced the group behind the deadly siege in Sabah and instead called for a “rules-based approach” to end the dispute, a strategy similar to the one employed by the government in the territorial conflict in the West Philippine Sea.
Instead of pointing guns at each other, Aquino called for forbearance and reason which he claimed are not signs of cowardice but of courage and conviction.
The alleged conspiracy behind the Sabah incident and the importance of having a peaceful dialogue to resolve the conflict were highlighted by the President during his speech at the graduation rites of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2013 here.
“We already know how complicated this issue is: could any Malaysian Prime Minister so easily agree to let go of a land that, for so long, has been subject to their laws? Is there a Philippine President who would, without a second thought, give up our claim? I ask you to consider my position: whether or not the claims of those who went to Sabah are legitimate, how does one weigh actions against the lives and livelihoods that are put in danger, should an outright conflict begin?” Aquino said in his speech.
“We all know that for every action, there is a resultant reaction, and that there are problems that cannot be solved hastily—problems that will only beget more problems if we try to solve them through force or recklessness. What is needed here: a careful and truthful evaluation of the facts, and a subsequent negotiation along those lines, to produce the right solution,” she said.
The President said the group involved in the violent standoff in Sabah only thought of themselves and disregarded the interests of the 800,000 Filipinos living in Sabah. He said even if the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III went to Sabah to stand up for what they believe in, it would have been better for everyone involved “if they did so through calm and reasonable discourse, in accordance with the law and the appropriate processes.”
In seeking ways to resolve the Sabah incident, the President mentioned how the government is handling the territorial conflict in the West Philippine Sea.
“Is it not true that, like in the issue of Sabah, we continue to hold firm to principles founded on a rules-based approach, towards a peaceful resolution of the dispute over Bajo de Masinloc?” the President said.
“If we were to resort to saber-rattling and violence, the problem would only grow bigger, and in all likelihood, would only carry over to the next generations,” he added.
Instead of pointing guns at each other, Aquino likewise cited that it is “more effective, more productive and more beneficial to all” to engage in peaceful dialogue as shown in the government’s peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“Forbearance and reason are not equivalent to cowardice—on the contrary, these are the measures of true courage and resolve, because through these we are able to consider the well-being of not only those living in the here and now, but especially those in the years to come,” he added.
Ahead of the results of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) probe into the alleged conspiracy behind the Sabah crisis, the President criticized anew the “masterminds” of the Sabah standoff, saying they have “provoked and aggravated” the territorial conflict.Without identifying the alleged conspirators, he said the group also gathered funds needed to rent boats, to buy gasoline and food, guns and bullets for the 200 men who went to Sabah.
“Did its masterminds consider how their actions would affect the majority? We have an estimated 800,000 Filipinos quietly living and working in Sabah; what if they were suddenly turned away by the neighbors with whom we have painstakingly cultivated peace and trust? It is clear: whoever was behind this only thought of themselves and of their own interests, disregarding those of their fellow men,” he added.
President Aquino urged the new PMA graduates to put the interest of others before self.
During the graduation rites of PMA “Pudang Kalis” Class of 2013 here, the President advised the future leaders of the Armed Forces to always take the side of the poor and the oppressed when facing crossroads.
Aquino particularly warned them against taking the violent and selfish path taken by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to press the claim over Sabah.
“Will you allow emotions to cloud your judgment, or will you face challenges with calm? Will you take shortcuts to complete your work, or will you weigh carefully the effects that your actions and decisions will have on those that follow you? Will you pass on to the next desk the problems that arrive in front of you, or will you work with all your strength, all your zeal, all the heart and honor of the soldiers of a united people, to solve these problems, and keep them from burdening the next generations of Filipinos?” the President said in his speech.
Aquino said the new soldiers have the “grave responsibility” of protecting Filipinos, especially those in the marginalized sector, from security threats and prevent them from burdening the next generation of Filipinos.
“And as someone who is a little bit older than you, perhaps this is the lesson I can impart: whenever you face a dilemma, you need only put yourselves in the shoes of those that will be the most affected, the most abused, the poorest, those who are in most need of your protection—and I can promise you, what is right and what is wrong will become clearer,” he said.
“They who are in the margins of society, they who are our Bosses, the Filipino people—they are the ones who will set the direction we must take; so long as we always keep their well-being in mind, we will never stray,” he said.
Aquino also emphasized that any grievances of the soldiers should be resolved through peaceful means. He said violence would not end any problem, citing the Sabah standoff that only endangered the lives of innocent Filipinos working in the disputed territory.
“I tell you the same thing I said to the classes that came before you: the time for training is done, the time for theories is done, the four years of vacation you have spent in Fort del Pilar is done; today, you begin to put what you learned into practice,” he said.
The 124 graduates of Pudang Kalis Class, including 19 females, were commissioned as second lieutenants of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Leading the PMA graduates is valedictorian Jestony Aman Lanaja of Davao del Sur who has chosen to serve in the Philippine Army. Lanaja received eight awards, including the presidential saber and the Philippine Army saber.
Pudang Kalis was derived from the Muslim term which means “sacred sword.” The class used the name due to its belief that “they are like a sword whose blade will never perish from generation to generation.” The blade also symbolized the heart and honor of the PMA Class 2013.
Meanwhile, Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III has left the fate of his brother and his men to God as he ruled out yesterday their return to the Philippines.
“Returning to the Philippines is not an option,” the eldest of the 13 children of Sultan Punjungan Kiram said.
“Why should they return, they are already there,” the sultan said.
The sultan spoke after Malaysian authorities claimed that Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram had already returned to the Philippines with some of his men.
“He has abandoned his men. He slipped out of Sabah recently for the Philippines,” the New Strait Times quoted Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar as saying.
Ismail, the report said, based his statement on intelligence reports from the military and the police.
On the other hand, Abraham J. Idjirani, the sultanate’s spokesman, said he called up the rajah muda (crown prince) at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
He said he told the younger brother of the sultan that he just wanted to hear his voice and be assured he is alive. “I can’t sleep well without knowing your condition,” said Idjirani yesterday at Astanah Kiram.
The call lasted only a few seconds to avoid being detected by the Malaysian authorities, he said.
Idjirani said the sultanate lifted yesterday its cessation of hostilities after Malaysia did not respond and continued instead its offensive against the so-called sultan’s royal army.
But the remaining 170 Royal Security Forces (RSFs) in Sabah, Malaysia, will still be on defensive, and only fire back if attacked, he said.
They will continue using guerrilla tactics to evade their pursuers and hide in Sabah’s jungles, he said.
On the slain RSF men, Idjirani said they are willing to retrieve their bodies but only if there is an assurance of security for representatives of the sultan.
Idjirani also disclosed that Malaysia’s massive offensive that started on March 5 nearly wiped out a group of Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram’s 235-strong Royal Security Forces in Sabah.
Idjirani said it happened on the second day of the air strikes and artillery bombardment. “Fortunately, three air to ground bombs unleashed by the Malaysian forces did not explode and turned out to be duds,” he said.
“If the bombs had exploded, at least 20 of rajah muda’s men grouped into at least 35 could have been obliterated,” said Idjirani.
He said the area in Lahad Datu, Sabah, where the three bombs were dropped was far from rajah muda.
The “planting rice” bombardment by the Malaysian had split the then 235-strong Royal Army into small groups, he said.
He said “planting rice” bombing is like dropping of bombs in close succession, a term that the Tausugs had coined after enduring the Philippine military’s offensives in Sulu in the past.
Meanwhile, the Moro people will mark today, Monday, the 45th anniversary of the infamous “Jabidah Massacre” that occurred on March 18, 1968.
Prof. Mashur bin Ghalib Jundam, education committee head of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), told the Manila Bulletin earlier of the MNLF’s observance in Jolo, Sulu.
He said “Maas” (MNLF founding Chairman Nur Misuari) was expected to led the event which will feature “a grand parade.”
The MNLF is marking the day in celebration of the MNLF’s founding.
On Corregidor Island, civil society organizations (CSOs) were also reported to mark March 18, which is “Bangsamoro Freedom Day” in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Another MNLF group chaired by Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslimin G. Sema was also reported to be observing the event.
There is still no official count of those killed on historic Corregidor in the “Jabidah Massacre,” but the figure being cited is from 28 to 60 Tausug and Sama trainees.
Its only survivor, Jibin Arula, died over a year ago after a traffic-related accident in Cavite province.
Meanwhile in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dingky Soliman yesterday formally discussed with Gov. Sadikul Sahali some of the proposed plans of the national government for the 2,415 refugees who arrived in this province from Sabah, Malaysia.
In a meeting with Sahali, Soliman also convey to the governor the deep concerned of President Aquino to the health, food and shelter needs of the refugees and evacuees who continued to flee Sabah for fear of their safety from the Malaysian government (With reports from Edd K. Usman and Nonoy E. Lacson)