Palace to Royal Army: Surrender now without conditions
MANILA (2nd UPDATE) – Malacañang on Saturday again urged the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to surrender to prevent further blood loss in Lahad Datu, Sabah.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, reading a statement from President Aquino, said the path chosen by Sulu Sultan’s Royal Army to stay in Sabah was “wrong.”
“Our objective from the very start has been to avoid the loss of lives and the shed of blood. However, you did not join us in this objective. Because of the path that you have taken, what we have been trying to avoid has come to pass. If you have grievances, the path you chose was wrong,” he told reporters in a press briefing in Malacañang.
The firefight between Kiram’s men and Malaysian authorities on Friday led to the deaths of 14 people, 12 of whom are from the group led by Kiram’s brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram.
Lacierda urged those in contact with Raja Muda’s group in Sabah to convince them to surrender.
“The just and the only correct thing to do is surrender. To those with the capacity to reason with those in Lahad Datu, we ask you to convey this message: Surrender now without conditions,” he said.
The Palace had been calling for Kiram’s men to peacefully return to the Philippines, but Kiram maintained that his men will not leave Sabah.
Kiram also wanted a dialogue with the President, but the Palace said he must first order his followers home from Sabah before the President agrees to a meeting.
More than 200 of Kiram’s men occupied a village in Lahad Datu town on February 9 to press their claim on Sabah.
They have been engaged in a standoff with Malaysian authorities for 17 days until violence erupted Friday morning.
Lacierda said the Philippine government “has exerted all efforts for a peaceful resolution” to the standoff.
“We’ve done that from day 1. We’ve sent emissaries. We have tried our best to deal with them and we have coordinated with Malaysian authorities. Nangyari na ang hindi dapat mangyari kahapon,” he said.
He also refuted claims by the Sultanate of Sulu princess Fatima Kiram, wife of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, that Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas is siding with the Malaysian government. She called Roxas "anti-Muslim."
“There is no one in this cabinet that is anti-Muslim. We are all concerned for the lives of Filipinos,” Lacierda said.
Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, meanwhile, said two cabinet secretaries, political adviser Ronald Llamas and national security adviser Cesar Garcia, have been communicating with the Kirams.
“Bakit sinasabi na walang cabinet member who stepped out of their way to talk to them?” said Almendras.
Almendras also said he is “saddened” by the statement of the Kirams that all 224 followers of the Sultanate of Sulu in Sabah have decided not to retreat and instead die in Lahad Datu town.
"After we buried our nine brothers and one sister at sundown, everyone of the 224 left decided to die in Lahad Datu in pursuit of their dreams and aspirations...and have decided to put everything in the hands of Allah," Raja Muda wrote in a letter read by the sultan’s daughter Princess Jaycel.
Almedras added that a team from the Department of Social Welfare and Development is ready to assist families affected by the Sabah conflict.
He noted that the Palace has also tapped a legal team to review Kiram’s claim to Sabah.
Malaysia also urged Kiram’s men to surrender and threatened to take "drastic action" against them if they fail to do so.
"We want them to surrender immediately. If they don't, they will face drastic action," Hamza Taib, police chief of the Malaysian state of Sabah, told Agence France-Presse.
Taib declined to provide details of what security forces will do but his comments echoed growing Malaysian impatience with the situation.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said after Friday’s shootout that he told police and armed forces to take whatever action was necessary to end the impasse.
"Now there is no grace period for the group to leave," he said. -- With a report from Agence France-Presse