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MANILA, Philippines - The Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD), the political party of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, advised the Aquino administration to stop pointing finger on the alleged conspirators behind the uprising of Filipinos in Sabah, calling this a tactic to veer attention away from the government's failure to uphold its sovereign claim on the disputed island.
Leyte Representative Martin Romualdez, Lakas president, said the government should exercise "aggressive diplomacy" to engage Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in a dialogue by sending a "credible and respected" Muslim leader to talk to him.
President Benigno Aquino III had made statements on the alleged involvement of the Arroyo administration in the conspiracy to intrude into Sabah, but indicated that evidence was still being gathered on the role of the former President and now Pampanga representative.
"There were statements made alluding to the possibility of complicity of the former administration. Rather than alluding to this possibilities and then furnishing the names later after evidence has been gathered, I think they should remain silent until all evidence have been gathered. It insults the intelligence of everyone," Romualdez said in a news conference.
Romualdez and another Lakas leader, Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez, the Minority Leader in the House of Representative, criticized the Aquino administration for washing its hands of accountability on the incident by pointing the blame on its political foes.
"This is just another smokescreen tactic of this administration to divert public attention from the real issue at hand, which is its failure to uphold the sovereign claim of the republic," Lakas said in a statement read by Suarez.
"The undiplomatic and irresponsible statements and actuations of the President and members of his Cabinet created the impression that they were leaning more on the side of the Malaysians than our Filipino Muslim brothers and explicitly consented to Malaysia’s violent approach to resolve the situation. Why the president openly supported Malaysia's rejection of Kiram’s claim to Sabah leaves much to question. Whose sovereignty are we protecting here?" Suarez added.
The Lakas leaders said the claim of the Sultanate should not be discredited because it has historical basis. They said this must be pursued to its "logical conclusion."
The Sultanate of Sulu was granted the north-eastern part of Borneo as a prize for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies and since that time it has been recognized as under the Sultan of Sulu’s sovereignty.
Although it was leased to a British company, which in turn passed it on to the British government with the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, the Malaysian government has since then been paying an annual rent of US$1,500 per year (about 6,300 Malaysian Ringgits) to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, Lakas said.
Before this, during the American occupation, records will show that the United States formally reminded Great Britain twice -- 1906 and 1920, that Sabah was still the Sultan’s to lease, sell, or cede. Even the British High Court of North Borneo in Sabah issued a decision in 1939, that the successor of the Sultan in the territory of Sabah was Punjungan Kiram and not Great Britain.
When the Federation of Malaysia formalized in 1963 and Sabah was incorporated into Malaysia, the Philippines sent delegations to London reminding the British Crown that Sabah belonged to the Philippines.
Quoting Lauro Baja, former Philippine Representative to the United Nations and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Policy, Lakas said, "there still exists solid legal foundation for our claim."
"In the transfer of sovereignty document which the Sultan of Sulu signed with the Philippine government, it was expressly provided that the transfer shall be deemed voided if the Philippines failed to pursue the claim... If we do not pursue the claim, we may do violence to our Constitution, to House Resolution No. 321 adopted on April 24, 1962 and to the Supreme Court decision upholding the validity of RA 5522 and declaring that the Philippines has title and dominion over Sabah,” the Lakas statement added quoting Baja.
"If we do not pursue, then we lay waste to previous international efforts in the UN, in London, and in the Bangkok talks, in the International Court of Justice, and in the Manila Accord of 1963," it added.
Meanwhile, senatorial candidate Teddy Casino urged the House of Representative to immediately look into the Executive's handling of the Sabah issue.
"Not only has President Aquino's actions antagonized the Sultanate of Sulu, resulting in a crisis, he had also undermined the country's claim on Sabah," Casino said.
Casino, representative of the partylist Bayan Muna, on Wednesday filed House Resolution 3042 seeking the "investigation on the ongoing armed conflict between Malaysia and the Filipino Muslims led by the
Sultanate of Sulu and the propriety of the position taken by President Benigno Aquino III in supporting Malaysia and thereby undermining the Philippine claim on Sabah."
"By calling for the surrender of Kiram's group, without conditions and echoing and justifying Malaysia's militarist solution to the dispute, Aquino has basically dropped the country's legitimate claim on Sabah.
Surely, Congress and other bodies must do something to correct this," Casino said.
Casino stressed the need for the Philippine government to call for the cessation of hostilities and the peaceful settlement of the Sabah dispute.