Aquino: Philippines first, ‘Sultan’ secondBy Edwin Espejo Mar 06, 2013 4:22PM UTC
GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Are the interests of Jamalul Kiram III and his followers, some of whom are currently holding out against the Malaysian army in Sabah, the same as the interests of the Philippines?
This was the question asked by Philippines President Benigno Aquino III today as he continued to defend the his position on ongoing crisis in Lahad Datu, where at least 200 followers of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu Kiram are digging in against Malaysian security forces
Speaking at a rally here to endorse his senatorial candidates, the president said if the Kirams have problems with the agreement their forbearers entered into with the British trading company who ceded the former Sultanate territory to the Malaysian government, they should have pursued a peaceful path.
“If there are infirmities in the agreement, then we will correct them,” Aquino said.
The president said the country does not want to create discord with other countries.
The president again reiterated that the Malaysian government is within its rights to deal with Kiram’s armed followers in a manner that its national security requires.
He said relations between the Philippines and Malaysia are in their all-time high following the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) .
Malaysia has been acting as the third-country facilitator in the ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The two warring parties signed the FAB in December with high hopes that a negotiated political settlement will be reached after more than four decades of war.
During the height of the Moro rebellion thousands of Filipinos fled to Sabah where they established settlements.
Last month, the heirs of the Kirams and their armed followers landed in Lahad Datu village in Sabah in what they described as “a journey back home.”
Sabah was once part of the vast territory of the Sultan of Sulu. The Philippines has a pending claim over the territory although it has practically abandoned pursuing international actions against Malaysia.
The issue was dormant for over four decades until the Kirams sent their “Royal Sulu Sultanate Army” to Sabah three weeks ago.
The president has been criticized for his handling of the Sabah “invasion” of the forces loyal to the Kiram family.
The Kirams were infuriated when the president said their claim over Sabah is a hopeless case. The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu want international recognition of their propriety rights over Sabah.
The ongoing standoff, which has claimed at least 27 lives so far, has threatened to strain relations between the Philippines and Malaysia.