Sulu crown prince denies provoking war
MANILA (UPDATE) – The crown prince of the Sultanate of Sulu on Thursday slammed the Philippine government for announcing that he and his followers could be charged with inciting war for bearing arms while going to Sabah, Malaysia.
Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram said there is nothing unlawful with their move to stay in the area since they are the rightful owners of the Malaysian territory.
"Hindi iyan totoo. Mali iyan. Actually we come here of our own free will. Even members of the royal security force, I didn't force them to come with me," Kiram told radio dzMM.
"We came here not to provoke trouble, no. We just want to live here because this [land] is owned by us… We are trying to awaken the whole world about our rights."
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Wednesday said the Kiram family and their supporters could be charged with violating Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code.
The Philippine government is also looking into the possibility that the sultanate is being backed by other entities.
"By their unlawful and unauthorized acts, these groups are provoking or giving occasion for a war and exposing our citizens to reprisals," de Lima said.
Being found guilty of the charges could mean imprisonment of up to 12 years.
Fight to the death
Kiram also denied that Malaysian security forces have overrun their camp in the town of Lahad Datu after being given warning by the Malaysian government to leave peacefully.
"Nagbabantay kami araw, gabi because there was already a warning for us to surrender. The word 'surrender' is something not good for us. We are not outlaws. We are not bad elements. We are good people. We are law abiding citizens. We came here to live in our place. I think it is not unlawful. It is not a crime," he said.
On Wednesday, at least six Malaysian security forces armed with rifles entered the royal army's camp. The crown prince said this prompted the royal army to fire a warning shot to alert the sultanate's followers of the presence of the Malaysian forces.
Kiram, however, said no confrontation occurred since the Malaysian forces allegedly immediately ran away after the royal army fired a warning shot.
Despite an appeal from no less than President Benigno Aquino III, Kiram said he and his followers will not budge.
He said he and his followers will fight to the death if provoked, believing that they are doing this for Sulu's younger generation.
"Just go home without anything? We will start again from zero. We already have a lot of experience. From [then president] Diosdado Macapagal, nothing had happened," he said.
"The president must do something to help us to negotiate peacefully and return what is ours. Because it is the duty of whoever is the president of the Philippines to protect the right of every individual Filipino citizens. We have the right, we have all the documentations that sabah is owned by the sultan of sulu and constituents
Kiram said the only thing that will make them leave Sabah is an assurance that the Philippine government will help them bring the Sabah issue back to the negotiating table.
"[Is it] not possible [for us to] stay while we do the negotiations with the Malaysian government? We will not do anything that is against [the law]. I told them, and this is already known throughout the Philippines, that we come here just to live in our place," he said.
The sultanate wants a formal agreement with the Malaysian government recognizing their Sabah claim. It wants the Philippine government to broker the negotiations.
Kiram clarified that he is with 275 followers in Sabah. He, however, refused to divulge how many of them are armed.