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article imageManila accused as de facto jailer of Filipinos in the Sabah claim

By Antonio Figueroa     Mar 17, 2013 in Politics
Manila - MANILA – Instead of protecting Filipinos fleeing from the abuses committed by Malaysia as a result of the bloody Sabah claim incident in Lahad Datu, the Philippine government is now accused of being the jailer and spokesman of Kuala Lumpur.
The impression came as a result of the series of events wherein the Cabinet members of President Benigno S. Aquino III, instead of calling on the Malaysian to talk peace with the ‘invading’ royal army of the sultanate of Sulu, warned the followers of the Sabah heirs of prosecution and imprisonment upon their return to the country.
Sabah is an oil-rich land adjacent to the Kingdom of Brunei Darussalam which was given as gift by the sultan of Borneo in 1704 after the Sulu sultanate helped quell the revolt that nearly toppled the old Malaysian monarchy.
In February 2013, 50 years after the United Nations (UN) disdainfully held a plebiscite in Sabah which was by then populated already by Malaysians, 200 followers of the Sulu sultanate heirs silently entered Malaysia and announced their intention to recover the territory through peaceful means and dialogue.
The first sign of pro-Malaysian stance of the Philippines came within the week after the standoff between Malaysian forces and the sultanate army, which eventually cost close to 70 lives on both sides, when Justice Secretary Leila de Lima warned that cases would be filed against Jamalul Kiram III, the legal heir, and his royal army.
This warning was further enhanced when she publicly declared that her office was readying charges against 36 individuals intercepted by the Philippine Navy (PN) while entering Philippine waters from Sabah, Malaysia last March 13.
De Lima confirmed the interception, saying there were actually two groups that were arrested as part of the Royal Security Force, including “17 males, and one female, and with assorted firearms, and one of them was even found wounded.”
Days later, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Manuel A. Roxas came out with a statement the Malaysian government would not talk with the sultanate of Sulu and settle the issue amicably.
The pro-Malaysian stance of Manila promptly got a rebuke from Sultan Kiram who called on President Aquino to “stop belittling” the territorial dispute over Sabah and for describing the decision of his armed followers to occupy a portion of the Malaysian state as a “foolhardy act.”
“I, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, pledge to our holy Quara’n that this aspiration to fight for what is rightfully ours, legally and historically, is a unilateral act of the sultanate of Sulu. This I pledge in the name of almighty Allah,” he said.
Adding insult to injury, the Philippine government rounded up in Tawi-tawi, Sulu, some of the suspected members of the royal army, mainly Tausug Muslims who had escaped the excesses of Malaysian crackdown against the Kiram followers.
Not only were these Filipinos, many of them undocumented, forced to leave Sabah upon learning of the clearout, some of the armed followers of Kiram, upon their arrest, were brutally investigated in captivity according to witnesses.
But the Malaysian government strongly denied the accusation.
Malaysian Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail said if their “investigation showed there had indeed been abuses, the persons involved will be charged accordingly.”
For its part, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Manila, which failed to stop the attack on the royal army, issued a stern statement saying the government “views with grave concern the alleged rounding up of community members of Suluk/Tausug descent in Lahad Datu and other areas in Sabah and alleged violations of human rights reported in the media by some Filipinos who arrived in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi from Sabah.”
Interestingly, it was only after over a month of the deadly standoff and assault by Malaysian forces against the inferiorly armed Filipino ‘invaders’ that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Manila under Loretta Rosales, a former party-list congressman, decided to speak up to probe the supposed abuses in Sabah against Filipinos.
A leading Filipino analyst probably asked the most telling questions: “What do we do with the returning gunmen we have? Are we going to act as surrogate jailers of our own people on behalf of Malaysia? And for breaking whose laws? Are we going to send them back to Sabah to be killed there?”
More about Sabah claim, land datu standoff, malaysian crackdown, sultanate of sulu
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