Aquino government blamed for bloodshed in Sabah-A A +A
Saturday, March 2, 2013
HAD President Benigno Aquino III helped Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers negotiate their claim over Sabah, the standoff would have been resolved peacefully, a lawmaker said Saturday.
Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said the Philippine government "mishandled" the three-week Sabah standoff between the Malaysian armed forces and Kiram's followers.
"Our claim of Sabah is very strong especially since Malaysia paid rent to the Sultanate as early as during the British occupation. In fact it is as strong as our claim over Panatag shoals. It was a wrong move for the Aquino government to distance itself from the claim even portraying the claim as nuisance and threatening the Sultan’s men with arrest when they return”, he said.
President Aquino, in a statement posted on Malacanang's website Saturday, said that the path chosen by Kiram's group was wrong. He said that the only correct thing for the Sulu gunmen to do is to surrender.
"To those who have influence and the capacity to reason with those in Lahad Datu, I ask you to convey this message: surrender now, without conditions," Aquino said.
The President reiterated the government's objective to "avoid loss of lives and shedding of blood" since the start of the standoff.
"However, you did not join us in this objective. Because of the path you have taken, what we have been trying to avoid has come to pass," he added.
Two Malaysian police officers and 12 followers of Kiram died in a 30-minute shootout on Friday in the coastal village of Tanduo in Lahab Datu town. Sabah Police Chief Hamza Taib said it was Kiram's followers who opened fire and that they "have no option but to return fire."
"The attack of the Malaysian military is an attack on Filipinos which requires accountability, and the Philippines must lodge a strong protest and the government must defend our territory. Aquino should face this territorial dispute with patriotism," Colmenares said.
Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay and ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio also criticized the government for issuing conflicting statements regarding the incident.
"The whole thing has been mishandled by PNoy (Aquino) and his lieutenants. For one, the government itself cannot even get timely information on the situation on the ground in Lahad Datu. But more than that, the public threats and insults directed by PNoy, DILG Secretary (Manuel) Roxas, and other officials at the Sultan of Sulu have only served to exacerbate rather than resolve the crisis," Tinio said in a text message.
Aquino had earlier appealed to Kiram's followers to return to Philippine territory but warned them of possible charges.
After it was reported that a shootout broke out in Sabah, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II said in a radio interview that Kiram's followers were "hard-headed" for failing to heed government's appeal.
"The mere fact that people have died shows that the government is failing in its objective of bringing a peaceful resolve to the issue," said Magsaysay, a staunch ally of Aquino's predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
But Aquino's allies said there was little the government could do for Kiram and his followers who holed up in the seaside village in Sabah three weeks ago.
"I think there was little our government could do except (to) request Malaysia to exercise restraint and to promote negotiations between the Kiram group and the Sabah authorities for a peaceful end to the crisis," Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello said.
The Philippine government had repeatedly asked Malaysian authorities to extend the deadline it gave to Kiram's group.
Western Samar Representative Mel Senen Sarmiento, secretary general of the Aquino-led Liberal Party, said that the Aquino government had done its best considering the circumstance. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)