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Standoff nearing point of no return

PNoy warns Kiram: Recall men or face full force of the law PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday warned Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and his followers that they were “fast approaching that point of no return” and would face the full force of the law if they refused to leave Sabah. “The choices and consequences are yours. If you choose not to cooperate, the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm’s way,” the President said addressing the sultan, whose followers – about 180 in all – remained holed up in the coastal town of Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia, demanding that they be allowed to remain. The sultan claims historic ownership of the island state that is now part of Malaysia. Kiram’s cousin, Salip Asaral Asmad, a resident of Sabah, was arrested by Malaysian security forces on Monday, raising fears that forced deportation would soon begin. “As President and chief executor of our laws, I have tasked an investigation into possible violations of laws by you, your followers, and collaborators engaged in this foolhardy act. May I remind you as well that as a citizen of the republic, you are bound by the Constitution and its laws,” Mr. Aquino said. The President said among Kiram’s possible violations is Article II Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy. Mr. Aquino said the enabling law of the Constitutional provision is Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes those who “provoke or give occasion for a war...or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property.” “Thus, you are now fully aware of the consequences of your actions,” Mr. Aquino said. The President said certain groups may have financed the Filipinos – led by Kiram’s brother Agbimuddin -- who crossed to Sabah aboard outrigger boats on Feb. 12 and occupied the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu. Their arrival and refusal to leave the island state resulted in a standoff with Malaysian authorities. “We were given reports that they [Kirams] are not in very good financial condition. And we are also told that there was quite a large amount of money involved in ferrying people on launches from Tawi-Tawi to Sabah. Hence, the first logical question would be: Where did the funding come from? And who is funding them? So it seems clear at this point but we are still collating evidence that this was not an action just on their part,” the President said. He said any collaborators would also be made to answer for their actions. The Philippine government deployed a ship to fetch Kiram’s followers on Sunday but no one has taken the offer to be brought back to Mindanao. “This is the time to demonstrate that you are a true leader both in name and deed. The right thing to do now would be to order your followers to return home as soon as possible,” the President said. “It must be clear to you that this small group of people will not succeed in addressing your grievances, and that there is no way that force can achieve your aims,” Mr. Aquino added. The President, however, admitted that Kiram’s letter in 2010 seeking consultations on the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was “lost in the bureaucratic maze.” But Mr. Aquino said this does not justify an armed incursion. “Let me say to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III: I have just been made aware that a letter to me, from you, was sent through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in the very first weeks of my term, when we were organizing the government. Unfortunately, this letter was lost in the bureaucratic maze,” he said. “Let me make clear that there was no intention to ignore your letter. Knowing this now, will you let your mistaken belief dictate your course of action?” the President added. Mr. Aquino appealed to Kiram to open a dialog with the government so that their grievances can be addressed. “The avenue of peaceful and open dialogue is still available to us. And so this is my appeal to you: These are your people, and it behooves you to recall them,” Mr. Aquino said. “Once (they have left Sabah), let us ease the tensions within a week or two weeks later, then we can sit down with Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and precisely map out their grievances and see the way forward after that.” The President revealed that part of the extensive study that he ordered on the country’s Sabah claim was to determine who really represents the Sultanate of Sulu. Mr. Aquino said based on initial studies on the lineage of the rulers of Sulu, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II’s reign ended in 1936, and that he did not have any direct heirs. “Based on the research that was handed to me, Sultan Mawalil Wasit was the next designated Sultan, but he unfortunately died before he got crowned. So you have all of these branches as to who should be the direct heir or who should be rulers. And they have at least five people who are claiming to be the sultan of Sulu,” he said. “So that is one of my first problems, who actually represents the Sultanate of Sulu? So, it’s still a process that is ongoing,” the President said.
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