It’s been two weeks since the Malaysian police and army attacked the 200 or so men and women from the Sultanate of Sulu. The Malaysian and Philippine governments announced the “end of the standoff” and declared the surrender of ten of the Sulu Sultan’s men.
It’s been 10 days since the Malaysians carpet bombed Lahad Datu using fighter jets. The Malaysian police and military in Sabah were reinforced with seven battalions from Kuala Lumpur as they attacked the 200 0r so men and women accompanying the Rajah Muda of Sulu. The Malaysian government announced the “complete defeat” of the Sultan’s men.
Yet the Sultan’s men and women are still standing and fighting.
There is complete news blackout imposed by Malaysia. Foreign or local media are not allowed in Sabah. And the Philippine government is totally submissive to the desires of the Malaysian government.
AS INTENSE FIGHTING IN SABAH RECURS
Noy aides rachet up damage control
As intense fighting erupted anew between followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, led by his brother Radja Muda Agbimmudin Kiram, and Malaysian forces in Sabah yesterday, resulting in deaths from the opposing sides, Malacañang aides have gone full blast on their damage control to save President Aquino’s hide from the many criticisms over his mishandling the Sabah crisis and not protecting the Filipinos in Sabah.
A Tribune source, who has links to the group of Radja Muda, said fighting erupted anew in Sempurna and Tanjung Bato areas between followers of the Kirams and Malaysian forces.
“War is still on in Sempurna and Tanjung Bato…many Malaysian security forces were killed while five on the RSA (Royal Sultanate Army) and four were wounded,” the source said.
The same source earlier told The Tribune about the influx of Tausug fighters to Sabah to fight along their clansmen now the subjects of intensified police and military operations by Malaysia.
“Crackdown by Malaysian forces is continuing,” the source said.
The source also denied reports that at least 55 followers of Radja Muda had been killed since the intensified operations were launched last March 1.
The source also relayed the Radja Muda’s group’s concern over the plight of innocent Filipinos being subjected by the crackdown.
There were reported abuses by Malaysian forces against Filipinos suspected of having links to the Kirams in Sabah.
At least 79 individuals have been rounded up since the crackdown started two weeks ago.
On the homefront, Aquino and his aides are in an all-out-media campaign and are into damage control, full steam as well as their justification of diverting the issue to a conspiracy theory leading to the NBI action against the Kiram clan along with other individuals and to dismiss negative feedbacks of mishandling on the Sabah conflict resulting to almost 70 deaths of Filipinos.
These efforts by Malacañang were evident as the Presidential Communication Office brought one Cabinet secretary after the other into the daily press briefing to explain the Sabah incident in the Malacanang Press Center.
Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda defended their actions, claiming that their presence during the briefings was not due to the highly negative feedback being received in Aquino and his aides’ handling of the crisis.
Lacierda said several Cabinet secretaries have been conducting their press briefings as well.
Social Services Secretary Dinky Soliman went to the Malacañang Press Center Wednesday to explain the situation in Tawi-tawi on the food distribution to the deportees wherein she also admitted she has not been able to see the actual situation there.
Then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima followed, Thursday explaining that a group of the alleged Royal Sultanate Army was intercepted on board a boat crossing the border in going to Tawi-tawi, Sulu.
Soliman, not contented with the Wednesday press briefing, still conducted a media interview at her DSWD office yesterday, according to Lacierda.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas who went to Sulu on Wednesday had his own media briefing, flooding the media with the government’s campaign to justify that Aquino and his men are doing their jobs well in relation to the crisis.
“Secretary Mar Roxas also had a press briefing to also inform the public on the comprehensive efforts of government with respect to relief, with respect to protection, security, and also to the work of DSWD, as well as the offering sustainable livelihood to those who are displaced individuals who decide to remain here,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda explained the administration has not mishandled the situation even if some sectors such as the netizens showed disapproval by hacking the website of the office of the President.
“There is no reason to think that we have mishandled the situation. The online perception is that this has really no traction insofar as the greater social media is concerned,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda expressed confidence that the efforts made by the administration have been earning support from the public than with the Kiram clan.
“Sympathies of the people are clear: The Kiram family did an act. While they have a claim, the manner of doing it is wrong. The manner that they chose to pursue their claim is improper. And so that has always been our belief. The public sees the resolution. The sincerity of this government to pursue a peaceful resolution prior to March 1 when the violence started,” Lacierda said. “So we believe that we continue to inform the public. Now that the violence has erupted, what we would like to lay out is what the government is doing insofar as protecting our Filipinos is Sabah and those displaced individuals who have returned from Sabah; providing assistance to them and laying it all out for the public to know —that our main concern is for the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah,” Lacierda said.
Lacierda admitted that the Philippine embassy officials in Kuala Lumpur have still to await word from the Malaysian authorities to grant requests of full access to the Filipinos being detained in the custody of Sabah police officials.
“For those also who are currently detained in Sabah under the custody of Malaysian authorities, we continue to ask for consular access and, also, the reason the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia has people on the ground in Lahad Datu also,” Lacierda said.
Secretary de Lima said yesterday confirmed reports of the interception of two groups of armed men at the vicinity of Omapoy Island, Tawi-Tawi while the second batch was seen at the vicinity of Andulingan Island, Tawi-Tawi crossing the border from Sabah, Malaysia.”
“So, with that development, the processes are now being undertaken by a composite team with the end view of filing the appropriate charges against them as soon as possible,” De Lima said.
The Tribune asked De Lima as to whether she has received the spot report of the apprehending team on the seas. which is standard operating procedure.
“The spot report is still there because there is no good communications. But the men in the ground sent a brief report on email. I told them there is a presscon today, although I know the facts when they were reporting that to us yesterday. But I have not seen anything in writing, so I asked for something to be emailed to me,” de Lima said.
De Lima added that “this may not yet been the official spot report, but since NBI men are there, PNP men are there, that’s easy to validate by the composite team if there is truth to this and we have no reason to believe otherwise. This is practically an official report—initial official report.”
De Lima said she also has no list of the alleged confiscated assorted firearms from the group whom the police claimed are members of the Royal Sultanate Army.
“No, I don’t have the list. What I know of is assorted firearms and other deadly weapons. We will know. I think that will be included, if charges have been filed by the arresting officer,” she said.
“Well, if you remember what the President said on the first presscon. His appeal was ‘lay down your arms, come home peacefully’. But it could not be that the state or the government will look blindly on the violations of laws,” De Lima said.
“Now, of course on the diplomatic modes and on the negotiations there may be discussions in principle, theoretically, hypothetically, and everyone adheres to possibly resolve, something an incident as serious as this, can be resolved peacefully.
“But since there is a violation, and we look at the consequences, the seriousness and the gravity of the consequences, unintended or otherwise, then government must act,” De Lima said.
She added that according to the reports reaching her, one of the groups was even wounded and attended by the law enforcers than to bring into the hospital for security reasons.
De Lima said the group would have to remain on the island which is being guarded by the composite team pending the filing of appropriate charges and the conduct of a preliminary investigation by the DoJ prosecutors under by De Lima.
“Okay, I would want to avoid specifying the charges at this point. What I can confirm which is quite obvious to everyone is the illegal possession of firearms because they were caught with or they were found with assorted weapons.
“And that, definitely, is punishable under our laws; and in fact, we have a Comelec gun ban existing. So, it’s not only under the Revised Penal Code but also, under appropriate election laws, they can be charged immediately with the illegal possession of firearms and other deadly weapons. That’s clear.
De Lima said that because there are no pieces of evidence on her possession she preferred to rely on his enforcers on the area.
“And another set of offenses will be those that will be subjected to the regular preliminary investigation. But, since I don’t have the evidence, I don’t have the specific facts, I cannot as yet give you those charges because that might also be misinterpreted or misconstrued as prejudging them. So that will be judgment call of those on the ground.
As I have said, it’s a composite team — PNP-CIDG, NBI —so they are now assessing, evaluating, and preparing the appropriate charges,” De Lima said.
By Paul Atienza and Mario J. Mallari