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Rejecting President Benigno Aquino III's appeal, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III said Tuesday his followers would not be leaving Sabah. "Walang sasakay. I have just talked to my brother and walang sasakay," Kiram said on GMA News TV's News to Go.
On Monday noon, the Philippine Navy's BRP Tagbanua arrived in Sabah to evacuate the sultan's followers.
Asked what they will do if they are forced to leave, crown prince Raja Muda Adbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Kiram and leader of the group in Sabah, said they would resist. "Lalaban kami. I will say to you straight, lalaban kami because we're fighting for our rights," he said in a telephone interview on News to Go.
Around 180 of Sultan Kiram's followers, some of them allegedly armed as claimed by Malaysian authorities, have been in a standoff with Malaysian police in Sabah since early this month to assert their claim on what they call their ancestral territory. "Sa ngayon, nanatiling pareho pa rin ang desisyon," said Dayang Dayang Sitti Jacel Kiram, daughter of Jamalul Kiram III, on News to Go.
"Pumunta sila doon not to wage war, hindi para manggulo, but to settle there peacefully. Dahil sa hirap ng buhay na rin na nararanasan ng mga kapatid nating Muslim, lalong lalo na sa Mindanao," she said, adding that they would not leave unless they are given a "concrete solution." Prepared to fight
In the same television interview, Jacel Kiram said they would not instigate violence, but were prepared to fight should the need arise. "Handa sila, at accepted na nila kung ano man ang mangyayari sa kanila. Just so they would fight for this cause na matagal nang pinaglalaban," she said.
According to Jacel Kiram, her father had told the group that those who wish to leave may do so, but none of the folllowers volunteered to go home. "Ang gusto nila, hanggang kamatayan nila ipaglaban ang cause na ito," she said.
While saying the government cannot be blamed, Jacel Kiram expressed disappointment at the lack of support. "We are bound by the Constitution, yes we are bound by Philippine [laws]. Sana nga maramdaman namin na parte kami ng Pilipinas, na prinoproteksyonan kami ng sarili naming gobyerno," she said, adding that the government needs to balance diplomatic relations and the interests of its constituents.
Reacting to Aquino's investigation into possible violations of laws by Kiram, Jacel Kiram said the government should also examine the country's history, in order to see that the Sulu sultanate has "always been subservient to the government of the Philippines."
"Napaka-loyal at napaka-masunurin namin. Ang daming usapan na nangyari about this issue, but it's all talk and those talks have never been walked," she said, adding that if the government is serious about attaining peace in Mindanao, "the sultanate of Sulu must be considered."
"Alam naman natin ang pinagugatan nito. Ang mga claim ng mga ilang grupo na we want to have an autonomy in Mindanao, kailangan suriin natin na ano ba ang basehan nila for claiming their autonomy," said Jacel Kiram. Sabotage talks?
According to Moro Islamic Liberation Front vice president Ghadzali Jaafar, Kiram's followers went to Sabah in an attempt to sabotage the Bangsamoro framework agreement between the government and the MILF. "Hindi totoong mayroong isa mang Bangsamoro na hindi sakop ng framework agreement at excluded sa Bangsamoro government," Jaafar said in the same News to Go report.
Reacting to the statement, Jacel Kiram said the MILF knows what should really be resolved. "As to the timing, ang tagal na naming nanahimik. Ito ay hindi nairesolba noon at mas lalong hindi maireresolba bukas. Now is the time to resolve this issue," she said.
Earlier in the day, Aquino questioned how the group was able to go to Sabah, citing information indicating the Kirams are not in very good financial condition.
Jacel Kiram said that while this was true, their followers contributed whatever they could to the cause. "Ang mga politicians, maraming tao dahil maraming pera. Pero mabibilib ka dito, pag sinuri mo. Wala kaming pera, we may not be in a very good financial condition, but we have people who are willing to die for this cause dahil nakita nila na kahit kailan hindi kami nang agrabdyado," she said.
She also appealed to the President to investigate how the letter that Kiram had sent to him through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process could have been lost. "Sa sulat nga namin sa Presidente, that we are willing, kung sino man ang may kagustuhan ng kapayapaan in Mindanao, kami ang nangunguna ng kagustuhan na iyon. We wrote a letter to the President pero hindi natin alam kung papaano nawala ang sulat," she said.
Jacel Kiram stressed the group went to Sabah in the hope that they could find a good life there. "Ito ay kagustuhan ng ating mga tao in the sultanate of Sulu dahil hirap na hirap na po ang kababayan natin sa Sulu," she said, urging the Philippine government to study the issue and support them in their cause.
"Maraming salamat sa effort sa pagaaral sa issue na ito. Sana madaliin natin. The clock is ticking and the hour may be late," she said. — Carmela Lapeña/RSJ, GMA News