Aquino orders return of Filipinos in Sabah standoff-A A +A
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
MANILA (Updated 10:20 a.m.) -- President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday asked the close to 200 followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who have been locked in a standoff in Sabah to return peacefully to the Philippines.
Or else, the President said in a televised speech that the government will be pushed to file cases against those who instigated the incident since their actions can pose threat to national security and public safety.
Aquino cited Article II Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, the enabling law of which is Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes those who "provoke or give occasion for a war...or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property."
"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. May I remind you as well that as a citizen of the Republic, you are bound by the Constitution and its laws," he said.
"Thus, you are now fully aware of the consequences of your actions. We have not yet reached the point of no return, but we are fast approaching that point," said the President, who was accompanied by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II when he delivered his message in Malacañang.
The Chief Executive said his duty is clear, which is to protect the interest of majority of the Filipinos.
"This is the time to demonstrate that you are a true leader both in name and deed. The right thing to do now would be to order your followers to return home as soon as possible. The choices and consequences are yours. If you choose not to cooperate, the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm's way," he said.
He said those who are aiding Kiram's family would also be part of the investigation after noting that the family is not in "very good financial condition" and a quite large amount of money was involved in ferrying those people from Tawi-Tawi to Sabah.
"Hence, the first logical question would be: Where did the funding come from? And who is funding them? So it seems clear at this point but we are still collating evidence that this was not an action just on their part," the President said.
Malaysia gave the group until Wednesday night to voluntarily leave the area.
A humanitarian ship (BRP Tagbanua) has been sent to Lahad Datu to fetch Filipinos there but reports said no one from the group wanted to retreat and go home.
Kiram said they are only claiming their ancestral land, which was leased to a British company in 1878.
The payment of annual rent worth P70,000 went on despite Malaysia's assertion of sovereignty over the resource-rich territory.
The President said he was made aware that Kiram sent him a letter through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) during the first weeks of his term.
Unfortunately, the Sultan's letter was lost in the bureaucratic maze but Aquino said there was no intention to ignore the letter.
Aquino had already tasked his legal team and the departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs to study the validity of the territorial claim.
"There are actually two documents that have yet to be studied," he told reporters.
The President, however, declined to comment if the Philippines will raise again the Sabah claim before an international tribunal.
Meantime, Vice President Jejomar Binay said he talked to Kiram regarding the issue.
"He explained to me their position and I listened to him. I then reiterated the position of the Philippine government and renewed my appeal for sobriety. I emphasized that the parties should exert all effort to arrive at a peaceful resolution," he said.
Aquino also promised to sit down with Kiram "precisely to map out their grievances and see the way forward after that." (Virgil Lopez/SDR/Sunnex)