Kiram’s wife: Sulu group just having a picnic, like in Edsa ’86
12:03 am | Thursday, February 28th, 2013
What incursion? It’s an excursion.
Playing down accusations that their family intruded into the Malaysian territory of Sabah, the wife of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III yesterday said their armed followers who occupied a village there were just “having a picnic.”
“What they did is a benevolent action … It’s actually like what happened during the Edsa [People Power Revolution in 1986],” Princess Fatima Cecilia Kiram said.
She also strongly denied President Aquino’s allegation that somebody was financing the members of the “royal forces” of the sultanate of Sulu who sailed to Sabah on Feb. 9 and had since been holed up in the village of Tanduao in Lahad Datu town.
“This is not rebellion. I actually refer to it as an excursion. Our people there were just having a picnic,” a smiling Fatima told reporters in a news briefing at the Kirams’ home in Taguig City.
Turning serious, she said the Kirams and their followers “have had enough” of the Philippine government’s indifference to their plight and their decades-old struggle to assert the sultanate’s ownership of Sabah.
“We have not been remiss. We have repeatedly told the government that, ‘Hey, here we are. Can we do something (to) help you?’ What we need now is a written agreement. We will not entertain any verbal agreement,” she said.
Fatima also clarified that their followers did not go to Sabah on orders of her husband. She said the 235-strong group led by her husband’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, went to Sabah “on their own free will.”
In fact, she said it was Agbimuddin who convinced his older brother to allow the group to travel to Sabah and “settle down in their homeland.”
“We did not tell our people to start a fight and resort to violence. Our people went there voluntarily. It was their own free will,” Fatima said.
Fatima dismissed as speculation the President’s claim that Agbimuddin’s group may had received funding, saying it could be part of a “ploy, a desperate move of the government.”
She said the sultanate’s followers went to Sabah using “money from their own pockets.” She said the group raised less than P100,000 to buy gasoline for the motorboats they used to travel to Sabah from Tawi-Tawi.
Before the Malaysian authorities ordered a food blockade, she said, the residents of Tanduao provided food to Agbimuddin’s group since most of them were relatives of the Kirams.
Not about money
“These speculations are part of their desperate move. They thought our people will not move without a financer. If we have a financer, we could have had more than 250 people going there. Our people may have had more than 30 firearms. In that case, what we will see is an invasion,” she said.
Although she admitted that the family was facing financial woes, Fatima maintained that the Kirams’ fight to take back Sabah was not about money.
“They say this is about our financial difficulties. We are not denying that we are facing financial problems. We may belong to the 70 percent of Filipinos living in poverty, but we survive because of the will of Allah,” she said, choking back tears.
“But there are more of us aspiring for a better life … This fight is a fight to regain our dignity, pride and honor. This involves the patrimony of the Filipino people.”
Malaysian forces sent to Lahad Datu village, says ARMM governor
By Julie Alipala and Allan Nawal
8:03 pm | Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Acting Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said on Wednesday, information reaching him indicated that members of the Malaysian police had pulled out of Tanduo village in Lahad Datu, where the so-called Sulu “royal army” had encamped for days now, and had been replaced by Malaysian soldiers.
The fresh piece of information reached the ARMM governor as the Sabah Police Commission confirmed that a series of gunfire was heard from the area being “occupied by the foreign intruders” although these were allegedly not from the Malaysian side.
“We still need to verify this information but that was the latest news we got,” Hataman, however, said.
He agreed that if his information was correct, it indicated that Kuala Lumpur was poised to end the Lahad Datu stand-off by forcibly deporting Agbimuddin Kiram and his armed followers, numbering about 180.
Agbimuddin Kiram, younger brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, set off for a “homecoming” to Sabah on February 12, to assert the erstwhile monarchy’s claim over the resource-rich territory.
The “homecoming,” which Jamalul himself has ordered, has caught international attention, revived the question of who owns Sabah, and nearly cause a diplomatic crisis between Kuala Lumpur and Manila.
Hataman said as much as the Aquino government wanted to avoid bloodshed, the Kirams had continued rejecting appeals for them to leave Sabah.
Hataman said if the stand-off ended peacefully and members of the “royal army” had come home, the Kiram family could expect that the government would not take further action against them.
Malaysia’s Deputy Police Inspector-General Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar said Malaysian security forces might carry out the forced deportation procedure within 24 hours from Wednesday.
“We are set to end the stand-off,” he told the Malaysia Chronicle.
Gunshots were heard in Tanduo on Wednesday, according to reports carried by Malaysian newspapers.
Quoting Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib, the Malaysian newspapers reported on their online edition that Hamza had personally heard the shots fired.
“Yes, we heard gunshots,” Hamza was quoted as saying.
But he quickly added that members of the Malaysian security forces, who had surrounded the area being occupied by Kiram and members of the Sulu “royal army,” had not fired any shot since the stand-off started.
“(B)ut I dare say they were not from security forces. They may be aimed at animals or warning shots (from the Tausugs),” Hamza said.
Hamza, meanwhile, said the Sabah police was closing in on the area being occupied by the Sulu “royal army” to “ensure that nobody could escape and enter the area.”
He said the police would be going by the books and would use “relevant laws to prosecute the foreigners.”
Hamza confirmed that elements of “other Malaysian security units,” including the Army, had started moving in as part of the preparations for the arrest of the “intruders” but stressed that there had been no order for an actual arrest yet or the “use of suitable approach” to end the stand-off.
“We will decide after considering various factors including the surrounding area before acting. When the time comes, there will be no more negotiations. We can charge them in court, it is up to us,” he said, without elaborating on what the “suitable approach” was.
Hamza said the police would never strike a compromise with the Sulu “royal army” when it came to Malaysia’s sovereignty.
He said whatever action Malaysian security forces would take to end the stand-off, Sabah residents had been assured that “security is under control.”
Tanduo, which is sparsely populated by fishing and farming families, is about 130 kilometers from Lahad Datu town.
Commenting on reports that Manila had sent in a ship to ferry members of the “royal army” back to Sulu, Hamza said: “The vessel was still not in Malaysian territorial waters.”
It was expected that the ship would reach Lahad Datu at least seven days from Monday.
Agbimuddin was quoted by The Star Malaysia as saying that none of his men would board the ship back to Sulu and that they would stay in Lahad Datu unless ordered by his elder brother and Sulu sultan, Jamalul III.
Agbimuddin, The Star reported, had admitted they had ignored Malaysia’s warning.
Agbimuddin had said they already expected Malaysian security forces to force them out of Tanduo but they were “ready to defend ourselves, we are not afraid.”
“We are fine…We are not afraid because we know we are right. This is our land,” he was quoted as saying.
Agbimuddin said they would not fire any shot unless the Malaysian security forces come in. “We will not attack, we will defend ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Hamza was also quoted by Malaysian newspapers as having confirmed that seven persons, including a Filipino television journalist, were arrested on Feb. 20, on suspicion of spying for the Sultan of Sulu.
The arrest, Hamza said, was carried out as Kuala Lumpur implemented a ban on journalists covering the stand-off in Lahad Datu.
The arrested Filipino journalist was identified as Jamela Alindogan, Kuala Lumpur-based producer of the English channel of the Arab news network.
Alindogan, Hamza was quoted as saying, was arrested with Al-Jazeera Senior Asian Correspondent Steve Chao, cameraman Mark Giddens, and at least four youth members of the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) near Tanduo, where dozens of members of the so-called “royal army” of the Sultanate of Sulu had encamped for nearly three weeks now.
Hamza said Alindogan and the rest of the arrested persons — save for the boat operator — had already been released after they were questioned by the police.
He warned journalists, either local or foreign, against entering Lahad Datu but quickly added that Kuala Lumpur was banning them for their own sake.
Malaysian security forces had cordoned off the area where members of the Sulu royal army had stayed after their “homecoming” on Feb. 12.
“Please let us do our jobs. Our focus is to ensure the safety of the people and we do not wish to see any unforeseen incidences happening,” Hamza said.
Chong Pit Fah, SAPP information officer, has lambasted Malaysian security forces for arresting journalists and for implementing a ban on media coverage of the stand-off.
Chong also questioned the manner by which Alindogan was treated by the Sabah police.
Chong said Alindogan was “accused several times” of working with the royal army despite her showing her press card.
“This is embarrassing for Malaysians. We have a police force which can’t tell the difference between what is dangerous and what is harmless,” the progressive The Malaysian Insider said in one of its editorials.
“How much more do the police want to shame us with this farcical behavior? They can’t chase a group of men from Malaysian territory but they will play rough with a journalist,” the editorial added.
Conflict puts 800,000 Filipinos in danger, says Roxas
By Frances Mangosing, Maila Ager
1:54 pm | Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
MANILA, Philippines – The brother of the sultan of Sulu said his group in Lahad Datu town in Sabah was open to negotiate with the Malaysian government just to have a “peaceful” solution to the Sabah standoff.
“Yes. Talagang peaceful negotiation ang kailangan…so long as our rights will not be taken away from us. Negotiation talaga ng gusto namin,” Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram told Radyo Inquirer 990AM on Wednesday when asked if they were open to negotiations.
“Kailangan namin ng ganun, peaceful. We have to renegotiate in a peaceful way,” said Raja Muda, brother of Jamalul Kiram III.
Raja Muda said the standoff could be resolved peacefully “so long as there is no betrayal, so long as they are sincere with the negotiation.”
His statements came just a day after Sultan Jamalul rejected President Benigno Aquino III’s call to withdraw the armed group in the disputed land or “face the full force of the law.”
Raja Muda said they were ready to listen to the President and accept his views if they think these were right.
Unfortunately, the sultan’s brother did not agree with the President’s claim that they may have violated Philippine laws when they refused to leave the land.
“As President and chief executor of our laws, I have tasked an investigation into possible violations of laws by you, your followers, and collaborators engaged in this foolhardy act,” Aquino said Tuesday.
Reacting to this, Raja Muda said: “E papaano papa-arrest? Ano ang crime na na-commit namin? Sa aming paniwala, wala kaminng crime committed against the Philippine government. We are just doing what we believe is right …”
“We believe [we have not done anything wrong]. We believe, ang ginagawa namin is really right. I think there is no such law against fighting for what is right,” he further said.
Raja Muda insisted that they would not leave Sabah until the issue has been resolved.
And if the Malaysian authorities were to use force to disarm his men, Raja Muda said they have no other choice but defend themselves.
“Kapag sila pumasok sa amin, there’s no other way except to defend ourselves,” he said.
“Hindi nila magagawa yun…Kung magdi-disarm sila, that will be I think the time na lalaban kami,” he added.
Raja Muda said they came to Sabah not to make war especially with fellow Muslims in Malaysia.
“We come here…not to make war against them especially since we belong to the same religion,’ he said when asked what would be his message to the Malaysian government.
And to the residents of Sabah, Raja Muda’s message was: “ We did not come here to die here but we come here to live with them, to stay with them to love each other and enjoy the income of Sabah together.”
He then called on their families in the Philippines and all Filipinos not only to extend them any help but also to show “sympathy” for them.
“The Filipinos must also at least sympathize on our move because we are doing not only for us…This is also for all Filipinos, Christians and Muslims,” Raja Muda added.
Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas, in a press conference Wednesday, said the standoff has risked the lives and jobs of some 800,000 Filipinos staying there.
“Nagsalita na ang ating Pangulo ano at talagang nangingibabaw sa priority kaligtasan ng ating mga kababayan doon, more or less 180 ang ating mga kababayan doon na nasa peligro at ito yung nasa isip ng pangulo ano kaya nanawagan sya na pauwiin na sila ni Sultan Jamalul. Dagdag pa doon more or less 800,000 ang mga kababayan natin ang naghahanap buhay sa Sabah at saka sa Malaysia,” he told reporters.
Roxas said it was important that Malaysia and Philippines to continue good relations.
“Napakahalaga na manatiling maayos ang relasyon ng Pilipinas at saka ng Malaysia dahil ito hanapbuhay na ito ay malalagay sa alanganin. Madadamay sila, mga inosente sila. So eto yung nangingibabaw sa pag iisip ng ating pangulo. Unang una yung kaligtasan ng ating mga kababayan at yung pagpapatuloy ng paghahanapbuhay ng ating mga kapwa pilipino doon sa Sabah. Hindi ito ayon nga sa kanya hindi ito ang tamang paraan para tugunan itong claim ng pamilya kirma at meron namang ibang fora para dyan. Sa ngayon ang mahalaga ay yung ligtas at mapayapang paglutas nitong sitwasyon na ito,” he said.
President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday called on Sultan Jamalul to end the standoff in Lahud town in Sabah and leave peacefully but this was rejected.
Instigators of sultan’s followers face probe
By Edu Punay
(The Philippine Star) | Update February 28, 2013 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - An investigation meant to track down the financiers of the incursion in Sabah by followers and armed guards of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is underway, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
De Lima said yesterday the government is verifying reports that Kiram sent his followers to Lahad Datu on Feb. 9 upon the instigation of several personalities whose identities are still being determined.
“We are including everyone in the investigation – the principal, accomplices and accessories,” De Lima said.
“The President can’t help but suspect that there might be other groups or personalities behind this adventure made by the group,” she pointed out.
De Lima said Sultan Kiram and his brother Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and some of their men may be charged with violation of Article 118 of Revised Penal Code or inciting to war or giving occasion or motive for reprisal.
“By their unlawful and unauthorized acts, these groups are provoking or giving occasion for a war and exposing our citizens to reprisals,” she stressed, adding that if found guilty they could face six to 12 years imprisonment.
“By doing so they are putting at risk the lives and safety of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens in Sabah and jeopardizing the good relations that our country has with Malaysia,” she added.
She, however, clarified that everything is still “under study” and that there is no order yet for any arrest or filing of charges.
She also made clear that President Aquino’s directing the sultan to order his followers to leave Sabah did not mean an abandonment of the country’s Sabah claim.
“The administration has not made yet a definitive stand at this point on the claim of the sultanate. As we all know, this claim has been considered dormant because that has not been seriously pursued in the past. But the President’s appeal doesn’t mean we are already relinquishing or abandoning such claim,” she explained.
For Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Alan Purisima, Kiram’s followers may be arrested and charged if they return to the country still carrying their weapons.
“Once they get to the boundary of the Philippines, we will be arresting them if they are still carrying firearms, so that is illegal possession of firearms,” Purisima said.
PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. said Kiram’s followers, like other Filipinos, are covered by the election gun ban.
“Actually, we are on top of the situation. We are monitoring the situation. We are securing Sultan Jamalul Kiram and his family,” Purisima said. “We are preventing more people from going to Sabah just to ease the tension.”
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II renewed the government’s call for Kiram and his followers to come home.
Roxas said President Aquino’s main concern is the safety of about 800,000 Filipinos working in Malaysia and some 200 civilian supporters of Kiram.
He added that Kiram’s army is no match against Malaysia’s security forces. – Cecille Suerte Felipe
(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 28, 2013 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - Malaysian security forces are bracing for confrontation with armed followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III after the Filipinos defied a deadline set by Malaysia for them to leave the territory.
Malaysia’s The Star Online said it had interviewed the sultan’s brother Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram over the phone, who said they were ready to face an attack.
“We are fine. We expect the Malaysian forces to attack today (Tuesday). We are ready to defend ourselves, we are not afraid,” The Star report said, quoting Azzimudie.
“We are not afraid because we know we are right. This is our land,” he said. “We are prepared, we are waiting. We will not attack (but) we will defend ourselves.”
In the report, Azzimudie said he would only take orders from his brother. On Tuesday, President Aquino made a televised appeal for Kiram and his followers to end their “foolhardy act” and return to the Philippines. Malaysian security forces are reportedly in position around Lahad Datu.
In the Star online report, Malaysia’s Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar said: “Maybe,” when asked if an attack would be made in 24 hours.
“We are set to end the standoff,” he said.
Azzimudie, meanwhile, admitted the food blockade is taking its toll on the sultan’s followers.
“We are already running out of food because of the blockade but we are not leaving. We will survive because we can eat leaves that animals eat. This is our homeland and we will live here,” he said.
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Kirams cannot hold the government hostage and endanger the lives of 800,000 Filipinos in Malaysia by insisting on their supporters staying in Sabah.
“You don’t hold a gun to my head and negotiate. You know, it’s like, you put a gun to my head, then ask that we talk. That’s not the way decent people do negotiations. You want us to know your claim, you cooperate. The President has said, ‘come back home, and we will talk.’ But you’re asking me to talk to you while there are people in Sabah; that there’s a possible outcome of violence. That’s not acceptable to us,” Lacierda said.
“Remember, this is not about Sabah. The President’s concern is about the welfare of the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. Trade has been disrupted in that area. We are very concerned with the welfare of the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. That’s what the President is looking into,” Lacierda said.
“The Malaysian government has deadlines that they have set. In the Philippine government, we have exerted all efforts to extend the deadline. We have succeeded in extending the deadlines several times, that shows the resolve of this government to come up with a peaceful resolution,” Lacierda said.
“Now, with respect to the possible criminal offenses, that’s the reason why (Justice) Secretary Leila de Lima was also instructed by the President to look into criminal offenses. That’s their view, that no offense was committed. In our view, Sultan Jamalul Kiram – by ordering his brother to go to Sabah – has endangered the relations between Malaysia and the Philippines,” Lacierda said.
“The President has always said that relations between the Philippines and Malaysia have always been colored by the issue of Sabah.”
He said the government had been trying to continuously reach out to the Kirams and as President Aquino had disclosed in Cagayan de Oro, acting Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman was one of the government’s emissaries. Lacierda said members of the peace panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) also met with them.
Aquino said Hataman reported on his meeting with the Kirams at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, after which they worked on his televised statement until 3 a.m.
He read the statement on national television at 8 a.m.
Lacierda believes it is reasonable for the government to ask for time to study the country’s Sabah claim, which has been dormant for years.
“We have already compiled the historical claim. We have to study the policy issue, which is a bit more complicated because it involves relations with our neighbor Malaysia,” he said.
“We also have to look at the legal claim. That’s why it is being studied. The perspective is broader. The President’s perspective as the head of government and as the brother, or the father, of the entire Filipino people is broader, his concerns are wider. His concern is the Filipinos in Sabah,” Lacierda said.
While there had been concerns that the standoff might derail the peace talks with the MILF, Lacierda agreed with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process that the issue was a matter of foreign policy and must be discussed separately from the framework agreement with the MILF.
Lacierda explained the Sabah claim was not included in the talks because “it’s a foreign policy issue.”
“We’re talking about the peace situation here right now. So when they were consulted… we discussed with them the peace process, the discussions on the peace process, among others. That’s the reason why we were able to include in the Bangsamoro framework agreement a reference to traditional leadership and customary laws,” he said.
“There is a sovereign claim of the republic and the private property rights of the heirs. Those are going to be studied,” Lacierda said.
He also said the Department of Justice is studying the legal basis of the claim, while the Department of Foreign Affairs is looking into the policy issue.
The Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office meanwhile is dealing with historical research, he said.
Lacierda noted they would also have to take into consideration the statement of Jamalul’s wife Fatima that in 1989, the sultan and his council revoked the authority given to the Philippine government to negotiate on their behalf.
“It will revert back to the Sultanate of Sulu. That’s what Fatima said. But nevertheless, President Aquino asked that the Sabah claim be studied. In fact, some have submitted documents, like he mentioned, two volumes of documents, regarding the Sabah claim,” Lacierda said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday he had conveyed to Malaysia Tuesday night the government’s request for an extension of deadline for the Filipinos in Lahad Datu to leave the area.
“I put through a request for another deadline. I said we should be given more time, precisely for processing that information and to give the Kirams a chance to think about what the President had said,” Del Rosario told reporters in a chance interview. “I asked for several days. I did not specify.”
The secretary said they had received information that the situation in Lahad Datu was quiet.
The DFA said it is now the responsibility of the sultan to make sure the situation doesn’t get out of hand.
“What we are trying to do is convince, urge and appeal to Sultan Jamalul to bring home their people from Lahad Datu so that when they are here then we could have a dialogue and consultation with them to discuss their grievances, including that issue,” DFA spokeman Raul Hernandez said.
“We appeal to the Sultan of Sulu to order his men to come back as soon as possible and then when they are here already the government can sit down with them to discuss their grievances,” he said.
“The ball now is in the court of the Sultan of Sulu and it is his responsibility to make sure that no harm will happen to his people who are in Lahad Datu, and the only way to do this is to order them to withdraw and come back to their homes in Mindanao,” he added.
The DFA sent on Monday Undersecretary for Special Concerns Jose Brillantes to Malaysia to coordinate with Malaysian authorities regarding the standoff.
Del Rosario also requested the Malaysian government to allow a humanitarian ship to dock in Lahad Datu to bring food to the Filipinos and fetch those who want to go back to their families in the Philippines. With Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude, Roel Pareño, Lino de la Cruz, and Jose Rodel Clapano
(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 28, 2013 - 12:00am
If the whole incident was not so fraught with danger bungling on all sides could lead to bloodshed, the insertion of an armed Tausog group into Sabah would otherwise be comic.
If the Sultan of Sulu intended to draw international attention to his family’s forgotten claim to Sabah, that goal was no doubt achieved. He blindsided both the Philippine and Malaysian governments. He caused enough political discomfort on all sides, reviving a question most conveniently consigned to the archives.
The point was clearly made a day or two after the Sultanate’s “royal army” landed at Lahad Datu town, across the modern-day border. Nearly three weeks after the landing, however, the “royal army” was still entrenched and Malaysian authorities threaten to assault the small force.
Since the “royal army” landed in territory they claim, the most urgent matter at hand for both Manila and Kuala Lumpur was to find a way to dissipate the crisis and convince the Sultan to withdraw his force. The Malaysians, it seems, presumed it was Manila’s problem to negotiate with her citizens and achieve the withdrawal without drawing Malaysian security forces into hostilities. Manila, however, imagined Malaysia will deal with the matter herself, since the armed intruders were on the federation’s territory.
If Kuala Lumpur gave this matter, happening in its backwaters, too much importance, that would magnify the dead claim. They enforced a food blockade and hoped the starving intruders will just go away.
If Manila took the Sultan’s claims too seriously, that will create too many complications in our foreign and domestic policies. The Sultanate, after all, has no standing whatsoever in our republican framework. We recognize no hereditary titles. An oligarchy rules us, not an aristocracy. All our dynasts are duly elected.
Understandably, there was foot-dragging on both sides. The problem, however, would not go away.
Last Tuesday, 18 days after the “royal army” landed at Lahad Datu, President Aquino finally materialized at a podium to speak on the matter. He referred to a study on the claim being submitted to him, voluminous and single-spaced. He had not yet read the study. Remember, the Atimonan massacre report is still on his desk for study as well.
For good measure, he admitted a letter sent by the Sultan at the dawn of his presidency was lost in the “bureaucratic maze.” The admission simply indicated the very low standing of the sultanate and its claim in the administration’s scheme of things.
Adding insult to injury, Aquino threatened to file cases against the Sultan. He added intrigue to insult by talking about the Sultan’s financial difficulties, raising questions about who really financed the “royal army” expedition. For good measure, Aquino questioned the Sultan’s accession to the throne on which he now sits — a matter irrelevant to the present crisis.
Whatever the legal standing of the Sultan and the validity of his claims, the point at the moment was that he was the key broker in extricating the force inserted into Sabah. Only Kiram can order the armed force to go back home. Only he could most feasibly defuse the situation.
Instead of assuaging the Sultan and winning his cooperation in the midst of a delicate situation, Aquino (and his emissaries too) bullied the royals, threatening them even as they held the key to defusing the crisis. The Sultan, as a consequence, took a harder line, refusing to withdraw his “royal army.”
Should this situation end up in tragedy, it will be due to the appalling lack of finesse in the way Manila handled things.
Nouriel Roubini is the equivalent of a rock star in the world of economics and public policy. He correctly predicted the 2008 meltdown of the US housing market and the earthshaking financial consequences of such an event. He is mentioned high among the most influential global thinkers of this time. He served as senior economist during the Clinton administration and since 2009 has been a senior adviser to Timothy Geithner at the US Treasury.
Roubini was in Manila earlier this month to keynote the Philippines Investment Summit 2013.
In his talks, the famous economist highlighted the key elements of the Philippine success story. From the depths of the debt crisis during the eighties, the Philippines worked down its debt-to-GDP ratio to 25.6%. This is better that Thailand’s 36.3%, Malaysia’s 27.7% and Indonesia’s 27.9%. The numbers should continue to improve as our net earnings remain above our net borrowing.
In addition, debt service declined from 37% of the national budget in 1997 (the year of the Asian financial crisis) to 16.6% today. After over a decade of balance of payments surpluses, we have now amassed gross international reserves of over $85 billion. That is over 11 times what we had in 1997.
Adept fiscal management now keeps the budget deficit at only 2.3% of GDP while inflation remains benign as about 3%. Our banking system is adequately capitalized.
In a word, major indicators show the Philippine economy is healthier than others currently enjoying investment-grade ratings. One major reason we have not yet won investment grade status is the comparatively low tax effort. From the current 15% of GDP, we need to raise this to 20%. We likewise need to convince the world that the boom-bust cycles of the past is well behind us.
Roubini, after delivering his keynote speech, paid a call on Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa at the Palace. The meeting was long and hopefully instructive. The Executive Secretary plays a strategic role in moving the policies we need to have in place to keep abreast with the rest of the world.
What was in that letter so that Sultan Jamalul Kiram III could say that had the President paid attention to it, he and his followers would not have taken matters in their own hands?
It was lost not in translation but in the appreciation of its urgency and significance.
That is what happened to the letter sent to President Aquino in 2010 by Agbimuddin Kiram, crown prince of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, expressing his clan’s stand on the Philippine claim to the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and the peace process in Muslim Mindanao.
After congratulating and expressing his clan’s support for the new Aquino administration, Agbimuddin informed Aquino about the creation of the Interim Supreme Royal Ruling Council (ISRRC) under the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo as a result of the series of consultations in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi; KM-4 Indanan, Sulu; and Kawit, Zamboanga City, on June 20, 25 and 26, 2010.
There is probably another reason why the letter got lost in Malacañang.
The letter was dated June 28, 2010, two days before Aquino took his oath as President. Technically, then, he was not yet officially the sitting President.
The letter was coursed through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) but since Secretary Teresita Deles had not yet assumed office at the time, another officer there received the letter and it was this officer who decided it was “not urgent.”
Dismissed as such, the letter was relegated to the pile of papers deemed not needing presidential attention.
The Opapp officer who made the decision was considered an expert in Muslim affairs.
After the Sabah standoff began three weeks ago and the letter was mentioned in the early reports of the Inquirer, a source in Malacañang said the President inquired about it. Aquino was reportedly disappointed to learn that no one kept the letter or a copy of it.
The same source, who asked not to be identified, quoted the President as saying: “Next time, when a letter is addressed to me, give it to me so I can read it.”
Specifically, Agbimuddin in the letter asked for guidance from the new President on what course of action the ISRRC should take, especially involving the Sabah claim.
“With highest esteem, may we inform His Excellency that during the consultation process, we asked our supporters what action, under the guiding light of your administration, the ISRRC of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo would take or adopt anent the Sabah issue, which became the national contract between the government of the Philippines and the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo pursuant to the filing of such claim in the United Nations against Great Britain and Malaysia in 1962,” Agbimuddin said.
Anticipating Aquino’s participation in international forums such as the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders’ summit, Agbimuddin stated his clan’s position on the Sabah claim to guide the President in discussions on the issue in meetings with representatives of Malaysia.
Agbimuddin wanted Aquino to articulate two points for the clan: The special power of attorney given by the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo to the Philippine government was revoked in August 1989 for lack of political will to push forward the claim by previous administrations from the time of then President Diosdado Macapagal, and the ISRRC had been legally established instead, taking over all actions pertinent to the Sabah claim.
Agbimuddin was appointed chairman of the ISRRC by his elder brother, the sultan, in June 2010.
Ignored for five decades
Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman of the sultanate of Sulu, said the appointment of Agbimuddin as ISRRC chairman was the basis for the crown prince’s exercising “authority” over Sabah, thus the six-hour “journey back home” to Sabah on Feb. 11 (most reports date the Sabah trip to Feb. 9).
In his letter to Aquino, Agbimuddin expressed his clans’ exasperation at being ignored through five decades of the discussions of the Sabah claim.
Agbimuddin said the heirs of the sultanate suspected that vested interests in the previous administrations were behind the claim’s being denied the attention it deserved.
The letter ended with the clan’s expression of hope of seeing “a change in the treatment of the Sabah issue” under Aquino’s administration.
Agbimuddin also said any treatment of the Sabah claim must be “consistent with the laws of the Philippines” and in consideration of the sultanate’s “legal, historic rights, cultural traditions and heritage.”
First united decision
Jamalul himself wrote to the President in 2011 and in 2012. When the sultanate received no response, the Kiram brothers met in November last year and agreed to the issuance of a “royal decree” authorizing Agbimuddin’s journey home to Sabah.
Idjirani said it was the first united decision of the Kiram brothers.
“They may have argued many times on policies and actions but the sultan and his brothers were never at odds as to their stance that Sabah belongs to the sultanate of Sulu,” Idjirani said.
Gov’t intel eyes 3 groups abetting Sulu sultan’s claim
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
1:29 am | Friday, March 1st, 2013
Whether the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu acted on their own to reclaim Sabah or were instigated by an external force to do so, one thing is certain, according to government intelligence sources: It was a business that proved too big for the heirs to handle on their own.
The sources said that the Philippine government’s policy on Sabah is to keep it in the back burner.
But apparently “some people” want to push it forward now. And why now, at this time, is one of the questions government intelligence is looking into.
The sources consistently mentioned three groups that appear to have taken advantage of the decision of the Kirams to pursue their Sabah claim.
“These are groups that wanted to ride on the Kirams’ pursuit with their own interests in mind,” one of the sources said.
Another source added: “There are a lot who can gain from this, not just in the Philippines but in Malaysia as well.”
These “external factors,” as an Inquirer source described the groups, are one small faction that is in it for the money, an anti-Aquino administration group, and the Malaysian political opposition.
“The Kirams planned to pursue their claim as early as last year. But they went to Lahad Datu also on the instigation of these groups,” the intelligence officer said.
The small group supposedly goaded the Kirams to ask Malaysia for a higher rent on Sabah. If Malaysia gives in, this small group would allegedly have a share of the increase.
The anti-administration group simply wants to discredit President Aquino and is using the peace process as a cause of disenchantment for the Kirams.
“All those who do not like P-Noy (the President’s nickname) have joined forces. This is one way to really test how this administration will react (to such an issue). Whatever happens in Malaysia, there will be a backlash on us,” one source said.
“In a way, whoever wants to disrupt the peace process or the gains of President Aquino has already won,” the source added.
The third group is allegedly the Malaysian political opposition, which is gearing up for general elections that may be called before June.
The intelligence officer said that one member of the Malaysian political opposition allied with Anwar Ibrahim was running for a post in Sabah.
“Apparently, this politician was one of those who spoke with the Kirams. He supposedly gave the opposition’s support to the Kirams’ claim to Sabah,” the source said.
The source also believed that in their meeting in November last year, the Kirams decided to “reclaim Sabah or at least ask for a compensation for Sabah that is commensurate to the land’s value today, and for the royal family to be given due recognition by Malaysia.”
But it is being Tausug that is keeping Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, his family, and their subjects stubbornly pressing their renewed claim to Sabah, even to the extent of defying President Aquino, one of the Inquirer sources said.
“This is the last stand of Sultan Jamalul. Being Tausug, they already gave their word they would pursue their claim. This is now do or die for them just to keep their word of honor,” the source, a senior military officer, told the Inquirer.
But for another security administrator analyzing the events of the past three weeks, the Kirams appear to be quite edgy of late.
“They are confused. The government is hopeful that we can buy more time, find a diplomatic way out,” the source said, referring to the government’s efforts to help settle the standoff between Malaysian security forces and an armed group led by Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town now in its third week.
The Inquirer’s sources are from the diplomatic and defense establishments. They asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak to journalists about their analysis of developments in the so-called journey home to Sabah of the Kirams.
The source said the Kirams decided to unite because they felt left out of the peace negotiations between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a premilinary peace deal last October.
Calling gov’t attention
“The Kirams wanted to get the attention of the Philippine government,” the source said.
“For so many years, the family felt they have been exploited in politics. Sultan Jamalul was goaded to run for senator in 2010 but he lost. Then their letter to President Aquino (in 2010 before he assumed office) got lost,” the source said.
The source said the Kirams and their followers “conceived the details of the plan to go to Lahad Datu” in late January this year.
“In February, a small group of the Kirams’ followers left for Lahad Datu, followed by Raja Muda Agbimuddin,” the source said.
The estimated 70 firearms now in the hands of the group holed up in Tanduao are owned by residents in Lahad Datu, Tausug and Badjao holding Malaysian identification cards, the source said.
Malaysian security forces have encircled Agbimuddin’s group but are holding action, with the grace period for the group to leave having been extended three times and a fourth being requested by the Philippine government.
The Inquirer’s military source said the impasse continues because the Malaysians are extra careful in dealing with Agbimmudin’s group.
“They are all Muslims and they know that if there is violence, it would go on forever. There are 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. It would be a huge problem in Sabah if violence erupts. The Malaysian security forces may end up dealing with guerrillas or a rido,” the source said, using a Muslim term for clan war.
The sultan of Sulu and others responsible for the Sabah standoff are facing investigation and possible charges for a crisis that has entered its third week.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday told reporters that President Aquino had tasked a fact-finding committee to look into possible violations of the law by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, his brother Agbimuddin Kiram, their followers and their collaborators in the occupation of Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town, Sabah.
De Lima said subpoenas were being prepared by the joint fact-finding committee of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
“As we speak right now, they are preparing various subpoenas and invitations. Subpoenas to be issued to those we think are involved and therefore can be prospective or would-be respondents in the charges to be filed later, if warranted. And invitations to those who can serve as resource persons and can provide certain information… who may not be necessarily involved but have information or leads that can guide our probers,” De Lima said.
Among the charges that Jamalul and his followers may possibly face include inciting to war or giving motives for reprisal; illegal possession of firearms; illegal assembly and violation of the gun ban imposed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), she said.
Still being studied is the possible filing of rebellion charges against the group, according to De Lima, who said this move needed to be evaluated by the joint fact-finding committee.
“For each crime, there are elements. I’m not sure if all the elements of rebellion or inciting to sedition are present here,” she said.
The Sulu sultan has continued to defy President Aquino’s appeal to him to order home his 235 followers, some of whom are armed, from Sabah.
The President had given Kiram’s group until Wednesday to return home or face the consequences, including being charged with inciting to war or giving motives for reprisal for their actions in Sabah.
After the latest deadline for Jamalul’s followers to leave Sabah lapsed on Tuesday, Malacañang sought another extension of “several days” of the grace period given by the Malaysian government for Jamalul’s followers to leave Tanduao and return to Sulu.
In a Feb. 26 order by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) released Thursday, the fact-finding body tasked to investigate the circumstances of the Sabah standoff was required to submit as soon as possible its report “whether preliminary or final, on its findings, and to forthwith prepare and file the appropriate criminal charges, if warranted, against those who may be found to be criminally liable.”
De Lima made it clear that President Aquino had given the sultan’s followers the chance to return home peacefully during the first few days of the crisis.
“Had they returned earlier, it was possible they would not have been charged,” she said, noting this was one of the options that the government discussed earlier into the standoff.
“But now that they have taken a hardline stance despite the personal appeal of the President, then it’s hard to say now that if they return there will be no cases awaiting them,” she added.
De Lima also said that the government wants to have very “comprehensive” findings so that when the cases are filed, they will be “airtight” and that all of those involved are charged.
She said this was “better” than charging “piecemeal” where the “participants by inducement are charged first before the participants by direct participation.”
De Lima said the joint committee was basically looking at filing charges that have “extraterritorial” application.
For instance, she said the charge of inciting to war or giving motives for reprisal in violation of Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code had extraterritorial application.
De Lima cited in news reports that the standoff was now threatening the barter trade in Mindanao and threatening the livelihood of other Filipinos in Malaysia who fear reprisals by Malaysian authorities.
She said another possible charge is that of illegal possession of firearms, which she stressed is a crime in the Philippines.
But she said Malaysia may have laws that penalize unlicensed firearms.
Representatives of the United Nations met with Jamalul on Thursday about extending humanitarian assistance to his followers holed up in Tanduao.
Jamalul did not tell reporters the extent of his discussions with the UN representatives, but his spokesman, Abraham Idjirani, said the sultan’s guests committed humanitarian assistance only and that the talks did not touch on the standoff.
Idjirani said the sultanate hoped the meeting with the UN representatives was the beginning of a “road to attaining peace.”
Jamalul himself told reporters that he did not meet with any representatives from Malacanang and that the meeting with the UN representatives was “more in favor of us.”
Agbimuddin’s group in Tanduao remains adamant about staying there.
He told a radio interview that all negotiations should be through his brother, Jamalul, in Manila.
“If this happens here in the same incident (where) Malaysian authorities will decide to file charges against them and arrest them and even if they have cases here, then we might not be able to get them (to come here immediately),” she said.
De Lima, meanwhile, said the government was also interested to find out who were behind this incident, who are its supporters and who are the provocateurs.
“We have certain information (about supporters and provocateurs) and I have asked the NBI-PNP-CIDG to pursue it,” she said.
The standoff in Sabah remains unchanged for the third week on Thursday.
Numerous reports have emerged of an imminent attack by security forces on the group. One report claimed that several soldiers came close to Tanduao where the followers of the Sulu sultan are holed up.
A heavy presence of security personnel was observed at various strategic locations surrounding the seaside village late Wednesday.
Sabah police also declined to comment if shots were fired in the area on Wednesday evening although nearby villagers claimed to have heard them.
The Sulu group leader, Agbimuddin Kiram, told Philippine media that his men had fired warning shots after spotting what he claimed were six Malaysian security personnel entering the village.
While claiming that they came to Sabah in peace, Agbimuddin warned that his followers were willing to “fight to the death” if provoked.—With reports from Marlon Ramos in Manila and The Star/Asia News Network
Supporters of the sultan of Sulu struck back on Saturday night, killing five Malaysian policemen and seizing four local government officials in an attack that indicated an escalation of violence to other parts of Sabah after the killing of 12 of the sultan’s followers in a clash with Malaysian security forces in Lahad Datu on Friday.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesman for the sultanate of Sulu, said an Islamic religious leader and his four sons were killed in the fighting in the seaside village of Simunul in Semporna town, 300 kilometers from Tanduao village in Lahad Datu, the site of a 3-week-old standoff between Malaysian security forces and a group of followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
Idjirani said two “highest” military officials, one police officer, and one “highest civilian” officer were being held by Jamalul’s supporters affiliated with Alianapia Kiram, a brother of the sultan.
Reports coming from Malaysia said two supporters of the Sulu sultan were killed in the shootout with policemen.
Idjirani said the group of sultanate followers led by Agbimuddin Kiram, another brother of Jamalul, had “occupied and controlled” Semporna, which is populated by Filipinos from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and the Zamboanga peninsula.
Alim Hashim Mudjahab, chairman of the Islamic Council Committee of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), told the Inquirer in Zamboanga City that supporters of the sultan attacked a police station in Semporna on Saturday night.
“They freed more than a hundred Filipino Muslims who were arrested on Friday and they even captured the Malaysian police chief and his colleagues,” Mudjahab said.
“We are worried because it seems that these reports are not important to the Philippine government,” he said.
In Tawau, Mudjahab said, followers of the sultan attacked a convoy of Malaysian military trucks, “hurling dynamite commonly used for fishing.”
“As we are talking now (11 a.m. Sunday), tension is spreading as far as Sandakan and there are reports that some Tausug residing in Kota Kinabalu are ready to fight the Malaysian authorities,” he said.
Mudjahab said he received the information from “MNLF supporters in those areas.”
But Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said he had not received information about an escalation of Friday’s violence in Lahad Datu to other parts of Sabah.
Idjirani said the violence spread to Semporna when Malaysian policemen pretending to round up undocumented Filipinos stormed Simunul village in search of relatives of the sultan.
He said the policemen shot one Imam Maas and his four sons and wounded one Imam Jul when they learned that they were taking care of the sultan’s relatives in the area, Alianapia and Amir Bahar.
The killings angered the villagers, who attacked the authorities and seized four Malaysian officials.
Idjirani said the sultanate of Sulu blamed the fresh violence on the Malaysian government, which, like the Philippine government, refused to deal with the Kirams on their claim to Sabah.
“This escalation (of the violence) is the result of the hardline policy of the Federation of Malaysia of not [sitting down to] discuss the standoff in Lahad Datu [for] a peaceful resolution of this issue, so that, like Malacañang, the sultanate of Sulu is washing its hands [of] this conflict now escalating in Sabah,” Idjirani told a news conference at the sultan’s home in Taguig City.
He said Jamalul, who learned that 10 of his followers were captured during the clash in Tanduao only on Saturday morning, asked his supporters in Semporna to take care and feed the Malaysian officials they had seized.
Jamalul did not call for the release of the Malaysian officials, as they could be used as witnesses to the “atrocities” committed by the Malaysian government, Idjirani said.
He said the sultan’s supporters in Semporna could not be blamed for their action because it was the Malaysian police who raided the town.
“These are unorganized efforts of the people, who can no longer stand the actions that the Malaysian government has been taking against them since 1982,” Idjirani said.
Jamalul’s daughter, Princess Jacel Kiram, said the people of Semporna would decide whether the four Malaysian officials should be released.
She said the people were not violent. If they were, they would have killed the four officials, she said.
Idjirani said people from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the Zamboanga peninsula were departing for Sabah to help Agbimuddin’s group.
He said he did not know for sure whether those people, who were going to Sabah without consulting the sultan, were armed. It is possible, however, that they are armed, he said.
Jacel said her father was calling on his supporters to stay calm. The sultan, she said, was “doing everything he could” to solve the Sabah crisis peacefully.
Reports coming from Malaysia indicated that it was the sultan’s supporters who started the violence in Semporna.
Malaysian Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar said five policemen were killed when they were ambushed at a village on stilts in Semporna late Saturday.
Ismail said a police team had entered Simunul village in Semporna in a hunt for a group of gunmen when they were fired upon.
He said two of the gunmen were killed in the shootout with the police team.
Police have encircled the village to track down the remaining gunmen, Ismail said.
He said the security forces were on the hunt for 10 men, three of whom were armed and seen wearing military fatigues at two villages in the east-coast district of Kunak at about 10 p.m. on Saturday.
Ismail said police were trying to establish whether the Semporan and Kunak incidents were related to the Tanduao standoff that turned violent on Friday.
He said police arrested three men who were trying to slip through a security cordon around Tanduao late Saturday.
The three, who were armed with knives, were detained for questioning, Ismail said.
More security forces arrived in Semporna on Sunday, leading to evacuations of residents for fear of more fighting.
Filipinos were among the people leaving the town, reports coming from Malaysia said.
Radio reports from Sabah said a Filipino man armed with an M-16 rifle was beaten to death by residents of a village near Semporna Sunday morning.
The reports quoted villagers as saying the man was a follower of the sultan of Sulu.
The Semporna police chief, Mohamad Firdaus Francis Abdullah, had no comment about the incident.
Acting Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said he was surprised when told about reports of fighting in Sabah.
“What? Where did those [reports] [come] from?” Hataman said when contacted for comment by the Inquirer.
Al Tillah, policy adviser to the sultanate of Sulu, said President Aquino had created a team to handle the Sabah crisis.
He said the team was composed of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, Ardo and Hataman.
“The Sabah issue is not a military issue,” Tillah said. “It’s [a] political issue that requires diplomatic action.”—With reports from Julie S. Alipala and Alan A. Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao; and The Star/Asia News Network