Mar 6, 2013

Aquino's 'threats' aggravated Sabah situation — experts

The Aquino administration's threat of legal charges to the followers of Jamalul Kiram III may have aggravated the violence in Sabah – at least according to a human rights lawyer and a Muslim leader.

A total of 27 people have been killed in clashes between Malaysian authorities and armed followers of Kiram, who claims to be the legitimate Sultan of Sulu and declares a claim on the disputed land.

President Benigno Aquino III earlier urged Kiram's followers to return to the country, saying they could be charged if they continue to engage Malaysian security forces in a standoff in the coastal town of Lahad Datu in Sabah.

“If you are truly the leader of your people, you should be one with us in ordering your followers to return home peacefully. 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 had said in a statement addressed to Kiram.

Also, in a statement last Saturday, a day after the standoff erupted into violence, Aquino told Kiram's army to “surrender now, without conditions.”

But according to lawyer Arpee Santiago, executive director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center, Malacañang early on veered from having an open dialogue with Kiram's group by threatening them legal charges once they return to the country.

No threats, please

“In the same breath, the president was asking for a dialogue or saying that it was open to having a dialogue and not to have violence. In the same breath, there was the threat of investigation or possible cases that might be filed against them,” Santiago said in an interview on GMA News TV's “News to Go” on Tuesday.

Violence may have escalated after government threatened Kiram's followers, he noted.

“Kunyare hostage-taking, hindi mo ite-threaten 'yung hostage-taker na ito 'yung gagawin namin sa 'yo. Otherwise violence might actually escalate,” Santiago said.

“In any negotiation like in a hostage-taking crisis, hindi mo muna sila tatakutin. You want them to come back, let's talk and let's see what would happen afterwards,” he added.

Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, also said a peaceful dialogue does not entail threatening the other party.

“It doesn't mean to be effective if you make public pronouncements. Threatening [them] does not allow for dialogue. What it does is to anger peope who are there,” Rasul said in a phone interview with GMA News Online.

She said the government should have been calm instead of provoking Kiram's followers.

“Ang tinitingnan ko kasi, if there's a hostage-taking crisis, meron yung strategy on how to deal with such situation. As much as possible, kalma. You don't do anything to anger or irritate them. The gunman might decide to do something,” Rasul said.


For his part, lawyer Oliver Lozano said he might move for Aquino's ouster if the chief executive would not form a body to resolve the ongoing conflict in Sabah.

In a letter addressed to Aquino and coursed through Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Lozano, a former lawyer of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, suggested that the government form a "Sabah Commission to formulate a Solomonic Solution to the Sabah controversy."

"Your Excellency, concerned sectors are asking me to file Impeachment Complaint against You. However, we have pending suggestions to You on how to resolve the Sabah issue," Lozano said in his letter.

"[H]ence the deferment of the Impeachment Complaint in order to afford You fair opportunity to be heard and due process that hears before it condemns in lieu of trial by publicity," he added.

De Lima is currently conducting a legal study on the validity and strength of the Philippines' claim over Sabah, a region in north eastern Borneo.

Aquino said Kiram's standoff violates the 1987 Constitution, citing Article 2, Section 2 that states that the Philippines "renounces war as an instrument of national policy."

Aquino also said Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code punishes those who “provoke or give occasion for a war…or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property.”

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office head Ramon "Ricky" Carandang said the Palace did its best to prevent bloodshed in Sabah.

"We've done everything we could to prevent this, but in the end, Kiram's people chose this path," he said.

At 7 a.m. Tuesday, Malaysian security forces attacked Kiram's followers in Lahad Datu, the site of Friday's clash where 14 people — 12 Filipinos and two Malaysian police commandos — were reported killed.

On Saturday, another clash in Semporna left six Malaysian policemen and at least six Filipinos dead. — with Mark D. Merueñas/KBK, GMA News


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