Government studying cases vs Sulu sultan, followers-A A +A
Thursday, February 28, 2013
MANILA (2nd Update) -- A government committee is looking into charges that will be filed against the group of armed Filipinos from Sulu who have been holed up in Sabah, Malaysia, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday.
De Lima said representatives from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will gather evidence that can possibly link Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers to cases such as inciting to war, violation of poll gun ban, and illegal possession of firearms.
"Article 118 (of the Revised Penal Code) has territorial application even if it's not committed within the Philippine territory. We are checking if there are other violations with extra territorial application. Also, there’s the issue of illegal assemblies that we have to verify," she told reporters.
Had Kiram's group chose to return to the country and sit down with President Benigno Aquino III over their grievances, de Lima said the government may not push through with the filing of cases in court at all.
"That is one of the options. However, it might be hard to say that for now since they have been defying the President's appeal. Certainly, they can expect charges to be filed if the result of the investigation will show that they violated our laws," she said.
De Lima said people who have aided or influenced the Kiram family to do such action could also face arrest and charges.
Subpoenas will be issued to those are involved and resource persons who can provide leads to probers. No specific deadline was set to complete the investigation.
"Most of the time I don't like giving deadlines but they know this is an urgent matter especially that the standoff is ongoing," she said.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, in his regular press briefing, said the government is doing everything to have a peaceful resolution to the ongoing standoff.
"Whenever there is an armed group, there is a potential for violence. So what are we trying to do? What the government has been asking them to do is: Let's take out that potential by asking your armed people to come home," he said.
Lacierda said the government believes it is a reasonable request on the part of the state for them to leave Sabah. At the same time, he said the government has sent emissaries to speak to them to address the issue.
"Let's defuse the tension in Lahad Datu. The Kirams would like to speak to us. What we're saying is: Let's do it in a way where the tense situation has been resolved and we can discuss in an objective, prudent atmosphere and talk to you," he said.
The Philippine government is trying to protect its national interest as well as to prevent possible eruption of violence, he said.
Both the Philippines and Malaysia have agreed to convince Kiram's followers to withdraw from the village of Lahad Datu but the appeal went unheeded.
Kiram responded by expressing ownership of the resource-rich territory, which was rented by a British company in 1878 before it was transferred to Malaysia in 1963.
Malaysia has since promised to drive out the close to 200 people who claimed to be the royal army of the Sulu Sultanate but the Philippines asked not to arrest and forcibly deport them just yet.
In tandem with Aquino's promise to listen to their concerns, de Lima said she is wrapping up her legal opinion on the validity of the Sabah claim. Her report, she said, may be submitted to Malacañang by early next week. (Virgil Lopez/SDR/Sunnex)