Feb 25, 2013

‘No UN arbitration in Sabah Standoff’

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang yesterday rejected proposals for the government to ask the United Nations to intervene in the current Sabah standoff and send peacekeepers.

The Philippines has asked Malaysia to give the government four more days to deal with the standoff peacefully.

“If you assess the situation on the ground right now, if you also look at all the statements of all the parties involved, on the part of the Philippine government, we’ve conveyed our preferring to have the situation resolved peacefully,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

Valte said the government was closely monitoring the situation and there were no reports of a “gunfight.”

“It’s being resolved in a peaceful manner. So let’s leave it at that,” she said.

She said the assessment was that the situation remained under control and “while there is a standoff, all the parties involved and all the parties concerned have expressed their commitment and their desire to have this end peacefully.”

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has proposed that the Philippine government ask the UN to intervene in the Sabah standoff.

Valte said the parties involved, including the Malaysian government and the Filipino gunmen, wanted to resolve the issue peacefully.

“And of course, Malaysian friends have also stated the same, so we share the same sentiment. Even the private individuals involved, the Kiram family, have also expressed their intention to have it resolved peacefully,” she said.

About 200 or more so-called Royal Army members of Sultan Jamalul Kiram have been holed out in Lahad Datu town in Sabah for more than a week, claiming their ancestral right over the region.

The gunmen led by Raja Muda Agbimiddin Kiram, the Sultan’s brother, declared they will not leave and are reclaiming the area as their ancestral territory. Malaysian authorities have given them until Friday to leave or be rounded up for deportation.

Valte though refused to comment on the timing of the incident and whether there was reason to be suspicious about the motives of those seeking to claim Sabah by force.

“If it’s wrong timing or suspicious, maybe we can set aside that issue first and focus on having a peaceful resolution on the situation in Sabah now,” Valte said.

President Aquino earlier expressed suspicion that the ongoing standoff in Sabah could have been staged to disrupt the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

In a statement from Melchor Amado, media consultant of former Tarlac Rep. Jose Cojuangco and wife, former Tarlac governor Margarita Cojuangco, the President has “cleared” the couple from any involvement to sabotage the peace negotiations with the MILF.

Amado said Aquino sent a personal message to his maternal uncle belying an earlier report suggesting the Cojuangco couple had a hand in the standoff in Sabah and the perceived plan to derail the peace talks with the MILF.

“Uncle Joe, we are looking for who is instigating them. Neither you nor Aunt Ting have been mentioned in any report to me,” Amado quoted the President in the letter.

‘Let’s see what happens’

Malacañang, however, cannot say yet if there will be a breakthrough in the current standoff as emissaries continue to talk for a peaceful resolution.

“Let’s see what happens this weekend,” Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said.

President Aquino confirmed the government was talking to the Kirams, who had been calling on the administration to help them reclaim Sabah.

There had been information circulating that former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales went to Sabah but Malacañang would not comment.

Gonzales, according to highly placed sources, is being seen as one of those orchestrating the standoff.

Lawmakers led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte expressed optimism that the standoff would be resolved peacefully.

Belmonte said the Philippines and the Malaysian government are sincere in resolving the incident without bloodshed.

Zamboanga City Rep. Ma. Isabelle Climaco, on the other hand, said there is historical claim on the Sabah issue, but diplomacy must be used to effect a peaceful resolution.

“Diplomatic channels have to be used through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). We do not want an escalation of tensions in our borders thus, exercise all means for a peaceful resolution,” Climaco said.

Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong, a former justice secretary, also supported diplomatic means to resolve the Sabah claim issue and the current standoff.

“There should be a diplomatic deal with Malaysia regarding dealing with the men of the Sulu Sultanate and at the same time talk with the Sultan to help avoid a drastic situation,” he said.

Datumanong said the government could find some people who have access to Sultan Kiram and talk to him.

Former President Fidel Ramos also called for a peaceful resolution of the standoff in Sabah.

“It will affect not only the Philippines but also Malaysia. They are having elections. So let us try to resolve it peacefully,” Ramos said.

Followers of the Sultan, however, called for more support to their compatriots holed out in Sabah.

Paramount Sultan Ibrahim Bahjin Shakirullah II of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (now Sabah) said in a statement last Thursday that they supported the Royal Army members in asserting their rights as the people of the Sultanate of Sulu.

Shakirullah said they have already sent word through their emissaries appealing to his people in Sabah to give moral, economic, logistic and any other form of help to their brothers as a gesture of unity among the people of the sultanate.

The military, on the other hand, has intensified naval operations at the sea border of the Philippines and Malaysia in support of the security efforts to contain the standoff.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said a naval blockade has been established near Tawi-Tawi to prevent undocumented Filipinos from going to Sabah as the standoff continues.

But the MNLF warned the naval blockade imposed by the military would only ignite the Tausugs of Mindanao to support and defend their brother Muslims in Sabah.

“The more (of the naval blockade), the entire Mindanao will unite,” MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said.

Sultan Kiram also issued an appeal to the Malaysian authorities not to take drastic steps that would harm his followers now holed up in Lahad Datu,

The MNLF leadership also raised the same appeal. –Jaime Laude, Paolo Romero, Mike Frialde, Pia Lee-Brago - source


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