Palace: Fate of Kiram men up to Malaysia
MANILA – The Philippine government on Monday said the fate of Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram’s armed followers in Sabah, Malaysia now lies in the hands of Malaysian authorities after they refused to lay down their arms and surrender.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda refused to say whether a “window of opportunity” to resolve the Sabah standoff peacefully last Friday has now closed after Malaysian forces suffered casualties in a series of encounters over the weekend.
“Malaysia has stepped in. They have fatalities on their side. They want to resolve this on their terms. Prime Minister Najib Razak said before the whole incident happened, baka pwede pa pero now, serious offense has been committed,” he told Mornings@ANC.
Lacierda noted the Philippine government had appealed numerous times to the Kiram family to leave Sabah and return to the Philippines to conduct a dialogue on their proprietary claim on the resource-rich territory.
He said the refusal of Jamalul Kiram, one of the claimants to the title of sultan of Sulu, to heed the Palace’s call has endangered the lives of 800,000 Filipinos who are living peacefully in Sabah.
“What right does Jamalul Kiram [III] have to endanger the republic and to endanger the 800,000 [Pinoys in Sabah] because of his proprietary claim? We don’t need to go that route. The end does not justify the means. That is why the President said ‘Alam niyo, mali ang pagpunta niyo dun.’”
He said: “We have asked them to lay down their arms and surrender because the alternative to surrender is death. Now the Kiram family is asking for calmness and sobriety. That should have been done before that. You should have brought the armed people home and have a dialogue.”
“It’s a path that leads down to violence. We have always said let us not take that course of action. They have refused to listen to our plea. They refused to listen to government because they insisted on their proprietary claim,” he added.
Lacierda said the negotiations with the Kiram family are no longer “at the level of Cabinet secretaries.”
Asked what the Philippine government is doing for the Kiram family, Lacierda said the Philippine government is securing the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah who are not part of the conflict.
He said the government is also giving assistance to the families of Kiram’s followers in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu.
More than 100 followers of Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram have been holed up in Lahad Datu and other towns for 3 weeks, demanding that Malaysia recognize that the sultanate owns Sabah and share profits from economic development in the state.
Palace eyeing Kiram ‘collaborators’
In the ANC interview, Lacierda said Malacañang had been sending emissaries to Kiram in Taguig, Manila in an effort to convince him to order his men to surrender.
Among those who met with the Kiram family are Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia and ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman.
Lacierda, however, noted that Kiram kept “changing the goal posts” during the early part of the negotiations.
“First of all, they wanted the government to press the Sabah claim. What did the President say? We will study the claim. I have formed a task group to study the claim,” he said, referring to a team in the justice and foreign affairs departments and the Palace legal team.
“Second thing, they said we want emissaries. On the 2nd day of the incident, Secretary Garcia and Llamas went and then Gov. Mujiv Hataman also went. And then they suddenly said, these people are not authorized. The alter egos of the President were there. Llamas and Garcia are alter egos of the president. How much higher did they want? They keep on changing the goal posts.”
At one point, Lacierda said the government and the Kiram family were close to an agreement until a single phone call changed the tenor of the talks.
He said the government is finding out if collaborators are involved that are intentionally guiding the Kiram family.
“At some point, we were near agreement and suddenly Mr. Kiram would call someone and the whole thing would just bog down. We are looking into it. That is why the President said we are looking at collaborators without naming anyone. We are looking into those people who are collaborating because in the first place. We sent 180 people to Lahad Datu. You want a press-occupied Sabah. That is not realistic to say the least,” he said.
Who’s the rightful heir?
Lacierda said one problem with the current conflict is that there are many claimants to the title of sultan of Sulu, with Kiram just one of them. He noted that the wife of Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari is also a claimant to the title.
“People keep simplifying the issue. Atin yan, ano ba ang problema? Let's look at the historical claim and see first of all, sino ba ang tunay na sultan? Hanggang ngayon, wala, kasi the crown council of the royal sultanate did not decide on the rightful sultan,” he said.
The spokesman said Kiram’s father was stripped of his title of crown prince by the sultan, Ismael Kiram. He noted that there are 9 original claimants to the title of sultan, according to historical records.
Lacierda said there have been several attempts by the Philippine government to unify the heirs and strengthen the Sabah claim. He said President Ferdinand Marcos renounced the Philippines’ claim on Sabah but that the Malaysians did not believe him.
During the time of President Corazon Aquino, Malacañang again tried to unify the heirs but Jamalul Kiram spoiled the talks.
“Santanina Rasul brought all the heirs to Malacanang, hoping they will be unified. Guess who was the party spoiler? Mr. Jamalul Kiram was the party spoiler. And again, during the time of President Ramos, there was again that attempt to unify the heirs dahil unang-una, how do you talk to Malaysia if you do not know the leader?” he asked.
Lacierda noted it was only during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that the Philippine government recognized Kiram as the “sultan of Sulu” and included him in the administration’s senatorial ticket.
“He was recognized – this is so funny. Nur Misuari has his own manok. His wives are also heirs. It is not for the government to say it. It is up to the crown council to say it,” he said.