By Edd K. Usman | Manila Bulletin
Malaysian armed forces yesterday started their massive campaign against Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and his men, launching air strikes in a bid to end the three-week standoff in Sabah.
However, instead of hitting their target, the Malaysian bombers dropped two bombs on their own security forces, the Sultanate of Sulu said.
Abraham J. Iribani, spokesman of the sultanate and Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said he spoke early Tuesday morning with the rajah mudah (crown prince), who disclosed the aerial assault by Malaysia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government had no choice but to quell Malaysia’s worst security crisis in years, sparked when militants invaded to claim the Malaysian state of Sabah for Kiram III.
“The longer this invasion lasts, it is clear to the authorities that the invaders do not intend to leave Sabah,” Najib said, adding that negotiations had gone nowhere.
“The government must take action to safeguard the dignity and sovereignty of the country as required by the people.”
The rajah muda, younger brother of the Sultan Kiram III, said they saw a jet plane hovering above at 9:30 a.m., but a bit far from their stronghold.
He told Idjirani the jet plane dropped two bombs on the Malaysian military and police forces encamped at Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu.
The bombing of the Malaysian security forces could not be confirmed independently as of press time.
Idjirani said the rajah muda was bewildered by the bombing of the Malaysian security forces.
But the rajah muda recalled that Kampung Tanduo, where the bombs were dropped, used to be his group’s camp, but they abandoned this after Friday’s fighting.
This could be the reason Malaysian bombers dropped two bombs in the area, not knowing that Malaysian security forces are now occupying the camp.
Idjirani described this as a “divine intervention.”
“If the bombs were from Malaysia that is divine intervention. It shows that our only support is from divine intervention,” he said.
At least two fighter jets roared over the standoff site from early morning, launching an air bombardment, a Malaysian reporter positioned about 20 kilometers away told AFP by phone.
“There was a series of explosions in Tanduo. Intense bombing lasted for about half an hour,” followed by a series of sporadic blasts, he said, asking not to be named.
An AFP reporter at a police roadblock about 30 kilometres from the assault saw heavy military helicopters flying toward Tanduo. Six ambulances also were seen speeding toward the site.
Three military trucks filled with dozens of soldiers also moved in the direction of Tanduo, located amid vast oil palm plantations.
Despite being ranged against Malaysia’s armed forces, air, naval, and foot soldiers, with tanks and fighter planes, the rajah muda remains defiant and vows to fight on.
“You know it, whatever they do, we are not afraid because we are fighting for our right,” said the rajah muda. The right of the Bangsa Suluk and the Filipino in general, if the Philippine government considers us Filipinos, is what we’re fighting for, he said.
He reiterated that he and his men will not start a fight.
“If they start, we will defend ourselves. If not, we will not move,” the rajah muda, leader of the originally 235 members of the Royal Security Force (RSF), said. Now down to just 215 men.
The group ventured on a “journey home” to Sabah on Feb. 11 and arrived a day later in Lahad Datu to settle and live peacefully in their “ancestral home.”
The raja muda also confirmed they are holding captives – four Malaysian officers.
He added that he is open to returning to the Philippines on condition there will be no betrayal during the negotiations.
“We will go home if there is no betrayal,” he said, adding their rights (over Sabah) must be preserved.
The raja muda also appealed to the “Bangsa Suluk” (Tausug Nation) and the Filipinos in general to help them, saying this is the time for them unite behind them.
He added that he and his men have no problem with food, saying “we are used to (surviving) wherever."
However, he appealed to the United Nations to send a medical team to Lahad Datu to attend to his wounded men and well as to bring food supplies.
With the Malaysian air strikes and mortar attacks against the Filipino armed men in Sabah, the Philippine government yesterday said it has no shortcomings and actually “did everything to possible” to prevent a violent end to the three-week standoff.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said they have exhausted measures to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict but the followers of the Sulu sultan have ignored government appeals to come home and instead pursued a “path of violence.”
Eight Malaysian policemen and 20 Filipinos were reportedly killed in the violent clashes since the supporters of Kiram III occupied Sabah last month. The group is led by the rajah muda.
Asked to comment on former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales statement that he is the Aquino administration’s “favorite suspect” on the Sabah issue, Lacierda asked: “Guilty siya?” (Is he guilty?)
“The President never mentioned anybody. He said that I will not name names until I have sufficient evidence,” Lacierda added.
Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding Chairman Nur Misuari visited Kiram III yesterday, his second, and warned of chaos should the sultan be arrested on government’s allegation he violated the Constitution.
He also practically admitted the presence of MNLF fighters in Sabah, but made it clear he did not order them to join the fighting.
Misuari strongly denied any hand on the Sabah standoff, saying if he were behind it then he would have sent thousands to the oil-rich island.
He slammed Aquino for his handling of the Sabah standoff.
“What he (President) is doing is bad. It is unbecoming of a head of state. I can’t forgive him,” said Misuari.
He also warned Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak of “consequences” if the sultanate’s followers would be killed.
“Sabah is our homeland. It is part of our sovereign territory,” said Misuari.
As this developed, Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. said the Philippines, as a republic, has a factual, historical claim over Sabah.
“But whatever else the issue there may be, the Sultan of Sulu and his people are Filipino citizens and, by virtue of that fact, they deserve protection from the government of the Philippines,’’ Marcos said.
“Pero bago natin pagusapan ang claim, protektahan muna natin ang mga Pilipino. We should talk to the Malaysians to spare the Filipinos from harm or harassment and to resolve this matter peacefully,” he said (Before we discuss the territorial claim, Filipinos must first be protected.)
“First and foremost, it’s the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens,” he added.
The brief statement of Marcos on the issue did not touch on whether the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III handled the Sabah situation well or not.
Fight For Our Rights
Yesterday, the Sultanate of Sulu asked President Aquino to abide by the Constitution by protecting “your people and fight for the nation’s territorial rights.”
Princess Jacel Kiram, daughter of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, read the statement from the Sultanate of Sulu.
“Mr. President, as long as Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram are standing by their belief to defend their rights over North Borneo (Sabah), please do not disrespect the integrity of their intentions,” the sultanate’s statement read.
The President “cannot wash his hands by turning your back on your own people,” it said.
“We are asking all the Filipino people now to pray for the safety of our Muslim brothers both in Malaysia and the Philippines and to a peaceful resolution of the Sabah issue.”
Meanwhile, former Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr. said yesterday that President Aquino may have made a wrong decision in ignoring appeals for him to dialogue with the Kiram III and his family, noting that violence may have been averted had he agreed for talks.
Asked what advise he would have given Aquino had this been sought by Malacañang before Malaysia decided to attack the over 200 Filipinos holed up in Sabah, Magsaysay said he would have asked the chief executive to talk to Kiram and his family.
“This is because the issue pertains to ownership problem. Had it been a question of sovereignty, a government-to-government negotiations would have been better and could have averted bloodshed,” said Magsaysay.
“Sabah issue is very complex. If you read former (Supreme Court) Justice Artemio Panganiban, it is an issue of sovereignty on the part of Malaysia and property on the part of the Filipinos,” the Team PNoy senatorial candidate explained. (With reports from AFP, Genalyn D. Kabiling, Madel S. Namit, Mario B. Casayuran, and Ben R. Rosario)