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MANILA, Philippines -- The human rights center of President Benigno Aquino III’s alma mater on Saturday voiced its “disappointment” over what it said was the “insensitivity” and “impaired knowledge” with which the government has handled the continuing problem in Sabah.
At the same time, the Ateneo Human Rights Center urged Aquino, in a statement, to “take the appropriate actions to achieve an amicable settlement on the issues surrounding the turmoil in Sabah.”
“From its public demeanor and dismissive statements, it (government) has exhibited an insensitivity to the root cause of the incident and an impaired knowledge of the historical, cultural, political and personal dimensions of the aspirations of our Tausug brothers and sisters in relation to Sabah,” the AHRC said.
It cited Aquino’s call for Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to order his followers who had occupied a village in Lahad Datu, Sabah to leave and abandon their “hopeless cause” and his threat to use the “full force of the law” if they ignored him.
The AHRC also hinted that Aquino may have been ill advised on handling the Sabah issue, urging him “to get the best possible counsel in relation to this recent tragedy” and adding that, “the threats made by our own Department of Justice towards the Sultan and the members of the Sultanate of Sulu do not solve the problem.”
On Friday, the weeks-long standoff in Lahad Datu between Kiram’s followers, led by his brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, and Malaysian security forces erupted in violence.
Malaysia has placed the death toll at 12 Filipinos and two Malaysian police commandos dead. But the sultan’s brother said 10 of his party died, four were wounded and another 10 had been captured.
The AHRC said that, even while disapproving the manner the sultanate had chosen to pursue its claim to Sabah, the government “should have, in the same breath, sympathized and expressed its solidarity with the noble cause and territorial objectives of our Muslim countrymen/women.”
“Indeed,” it said, “the government may have unduly alienated citizens who have hitherto exhibited loyalty to the Philippines.”
Following is the full text of the AHRC statement:
In recent weeks, the Sultanate of Sulu, headed by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and a group of Tausugs forming part of the Royal Army of Sulu, went to the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah. They asked that the Sultanate receive royalties commensurate to Sabah’s economic growth and that they be allowed to peacefully settle there, which they consider their homeland.
However, in a press conference held on February 26, 2013, President Benigno Aquino III appealed to Sultan Kiram and his supporters to withdraw from Sabah, and peacefully end their standoff. He, unfortunately, referred to their cause as a “hopeless cause.” Further, the President threatened them with prosecution by issuing a stern warning that if they choose not to cooperate, they will face the “full force of the law.”
The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) expresses its deep concern on what transpired in Lahad Datu, Sabah which escalated into violence resulting in the death of a number of our Muslim countrymen/women. The AHRC likewise expresses its disappointment on the government’s treatment of the problem. From its public demeanor and dismissive statements, it has exhibited an insensitivity to the root cause of the incident and an impaired knowledge of the historical, cultural, political and personal dimensions of the aspirations of our Tausug brothers and sisters in relation to Sabah.
While the Government may have expressed its non-conformity to the manner by which the claim was pursued, it should have, in the same breath, sympathized and expressed its solidarity with the noble cause and territorial objectives of our Muslim countrymen/women. Indeed, the Government may have unduly alienated citizens who have hitherto exhibited loyalty to the Philippines.
While not condoning any form of violence, the Philippine Government should demonstrate that the interests of our Filipino Muslim brothers and sisters involved are its paramount concern; and it has not derogated from its responsibility to protect their human rights.
Therefore, we call on President Benigno Aquino III to take the appropriate actions to achieve an amicable settlement on the issues surrounding the turmoil in Sabah. Also, we urge the government to extend all the possible assistance to our brother/sister Muslims involved in this tragic event. Moreover, we implore the President to get the best possible counsel in relation to this recent tragedy. The threats made by our own Department of Justice towards the Sultan and the members of the Sultanate of Sulu do not solve the problem. President Aquino should assure them that the Government will take the matter seriously in order to arrive at a peaceful solution. The Philippine Government should also guarantee the Sultanate of Sulu that it continues to honor the claim over Sabah, a place which our Tausug brothers and sisters rightfully claim and assert as our own.