NBI launches probe on Sabah 'conspiracy'
MANILA, Philippines - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) summoned yesterday an adviser of the sultanate of Sulu for questioning as the government pursued suspicions of a conspiracy in the ongoing crisis in Sabah.
Pastor “Boy” Saycon, a political strategist and secretary general of the Council for Philippine Affairs (COPA), was told to appear before the NBI on Tuesday morning.
Sultanate spokesman Abraham Idjirani said it was the start of a “crackdown” by the government on the sultan’s followers. Malacañang said President Aquino would inform Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak about “ringleaders” in the Sabah incident.
The NBI subpoena, signed by Deputy Director for Intelligence Services Reynaldo Esmeralda, was delivered to Saycon’s Makati office by NBI agents at 4 p.m.
Although Saycon said he had not read the subpoena, he told The STAR he was being summoned in connection with his support for Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
“I suspect it would be because of the recent developments and the entry into Sabah,” Saycon said. “It is anticipated that supporters of the sultan will be charged. They are now preparing the ground for more subpoenas… the threat of the government has been lingering for the past two weeks.”
He said the sultanate had put together a team of lawyers to assist Kiram’s supporters who may be subpoenaed and indicted.
“I think the government wants to put up a conspiracy without any basis and blame people instead of solving the worsening crisis in Sabah,” Saycon told The STAR.
Saycon has admitted acting as an adviser to Kiram in bringing the sultanate’s Sabah claim to the United Nations. Saycon describes himself as the sultan’s adviser on foreign, economic and cultural relations for the past 12 years.
He had earlier denied instigating the sultanate’s army to go to the coastal village of Lahad Datu in Sabah last month. He also said he was working on his own with Kiram on the Sabah claim, clearing COPA members Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., the President’s uncle, and wife Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco of involvement.
NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas could not be reached for comment last night, but he had earlier said the bureau was investigating “the people behind the Sabah incident.”
Saycon said he would remain an adviser of Kiram “and not abandon him in this time of crisis.”
The sultanate said that the other day, three NBI agents entered Kiram’s home in Taguig City by posing as television crew.
“I think they are trying to intimidate the loved ones, friends and supporters of the sultan,” Saycon said as he reiterated his call for UN mediation on the crisis.
Lured with $600?
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday Kiram’s followers might have been lured into going to Lahad Datu with a promise of $600. Idjirani denied this.
Lacierda said the government has asked Kuala Lumpur for full access to Filipinos affected by the hostilities in Sabah.
He said the armed followers of Kiram accounted for only a small fraction of law-abiding Filipinos in Sabah.
Lacierda said President Aquino would tell Razak “that there are ringleaders, and there were others who were deceived.”
“We’ve seen also in some reports in media, that some of them… part of the royal sultanate forces, were paid $600… were promised to be paid $600. They were promised land, they were promised positions in the sultanate. That is not being denied,” Lacierda said.
The government has warned that Kiram and his followers could face arrest for various offenses including inciting to war and illegal possession of firearms.
“He will not run. He is already an old man,” Idjirani said, referring to Kiram.
President Aquino had earlier said the government was looking into a conspiracy behind the Sabah crisis, involving personalities identified with the previous administration. He did not name names, but noted that the Sabah incursion involved considerable funding and logistics that the sultanate could not have bankrolled alone.
The STAR previously reported that the President was furious over the Sabah incident, believing it was instigated by certain individuals to sabotage the government’s peace initiatives with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Administration officials told The STAR this week that among the complaints of Kiram and his supporters is that they felt left out in the peace negotiations with the MILF. Under the framework peace agreement with the MILF, the creation of a Bangsamoro entity will affect lands claimed by the Sulu sultanate.
The sultan’s supporters in Sabah are accompanied by members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) identified with founding chairman Nur Misuari, who claims his clan is the real owner of North Borneo or Sabah.
The MNLF signed a peace treaty with the government in 1996, which Misuari says has not been fully implemented together with the Tripoli Agreement signed earlier in Libya.
Sources earlier said among the supposed conspirators being eyed by Malacañang is Norberto Gonzales, who served as national security adviser and defense secretary during the Arroyo administration. He has denied involvement in the Sabah incident. – With Paolo Romero, Rey Galupo