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Sabah Conflict

De Lima: Legal study on Sabah claim 90% done

March 6, 2013 4:13pm

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Wednesday said she is already finishing up her legal study on the Philippine claim on Sabah but added that she would not reveal it to the public without President Benigno Aquino III's permission.

De Lima said she was "90 percent" finished with her legal study and might complete it within the week.

"I can finish it this week but I don't want to rush into things. I don't want to reveal it just yet since there are also other agencies conducting their own studies," De Lima told reporters at a press conference in Manila.

The coastal town of Lahad Datu in Sabah is currently the site of skirmishes between followers of a Filipino sultan and Malaysian security forces. The Filipinos are there to assert the Sulu sultanate’s claim on what it calls its ancestral territory.

De Lima said apart from her, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) as well as the Office of the President are conducting their respective studies on the Philippine claim on Sabah.

De Lima also said the government has yet to determine what charges could be filed against the Sultan Jamalul Kiram III's followers.

The Justice chief said that for now, more than asserting the Philippine claim over Sabah, the government is more concerned about resolving the crisis that arose when around 200 supporters of Kiram sailed to Sabah to claim it.

"Puwede naman kasi pag-usapan ang Sabah claim later kapag tapos na itong crisis na ito. Huwag natin isasabay. Hindi natin puwede ipilit 'yan sa isang sovereign state like Malaysia," she said.

De Lima also echoed the DFA statement that the Philippine government has never branded the members of Kiram's group as "terrorists."

Kiram's followers arrived in Sabah last February 9 at the coastal Kampung Tanduo, and engaged Malaysian authorities in a standoff. The group, led by Kiram's brother Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, said they would not leave Sabah as they consider it their “homeland.”

Last March 1, Kiram’s followers engaged the Malaysian forces in a bloody clash that left 12 Filipinos and two Malaysian police commandos dead. On March 2, another clash left six Malaysian policemen and at least six Filipinos dead.

But Kiram’s followers refused to heed President Benigno Aquino III’s call to surrender without conditions, saying they had chosen “honor over life.”

On Tuesday, Malaysian police claimed that the followers of Sultan Kiram had been defeated but the monarch's camp said that his men remain alive and defiant. — Mark Merueñas/KBK, GMA News

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