MANILA, Philippines - A week before the March 1 firefight in Lahad Datu that killed 19 Filipinos and 8 Malaysian cops, a senior Cabinet official was telling reporters about the government's plan to send Ismael Kiram II to Sabah so he could talk to the Malaysian government about the family's concerns and persuade his younger brother and his followers to come home.
Ismael Kiram II is also an heir to the Sultan of Sulu. He is the brother of 74-year-old Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who has been in the news since February 9 when another brother, Raja Muda Kiram, and a few dozen members of the sultanate's "royal army" sailed to Sabah to push for the Kirams' claim over the territory.
The Cabinet official was confident Ismael was the solution. It sounded like a done deal. The government was at that point making arrangements with the Malaysian government to recognize Ismael as an "emissary" who will end the standoff. There were concerns that he could be seen as "reinforcement" and could be arrested, he told reporters on February 21 during a breakfast chat.
But as we know now, Ismael's trip to Sabah did not materialize.
As of Friday, March 8, the Malaysian government claimed that a total of 52 Filipinos and 8 Malaysian security forces have died. The Kirams have declared a unilateral ceasefire but the Malaysian government refused to match it. Malaysia wants the royal army to surrender and face its courts.
Lacierda details botched plan
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Friday spoke about the Aquino government's botched move to send Ismael, who is based in Sulu, to Sabah. He said the government could not talk about the plan then because they initially wanted backdoor negotiations to end the standoff.
If plans went well, Ismael would have flown to Malaysia on February 24. But Lacierda revealed that Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, in the end, stopped Ismael from going to Malaysia and cooperating with the government.
"We tried to arrange [for] Ismael Kiram to go to Malaysia in order for them to speak to the Malaysian authorities. We were silent because the President was working on a peaceful resolution to this matter," Lacierda told reporters on Friday.
"When Ismael Kiram decided to agree that he will go to Malaysia, we provided an airplane for him to go to Malaysia. Unfortunately, Mr Jamalul Kiram rejected it. He said, ‘no, you can’t go to Malaysia’. And so, where are we now?," Lacierda added.
Lacierda said he is telling the story now that Ismael himself talked about the plan to a local TV station in Zamboanga. "We are laying it all out because for you to know that this government was not sleeping on this effort to resolve all these things, from the very start," he added.
Meetings with Kirams
Lacierda also slammed the Sultan's daughter, Jacel Kiram, for supposedly making inconsistent statements that the government has been favoring Malaysia over the Kirams.
Lacierda said there were at least 3 secret meetings with the government and the Kirams between February 17 to 22. It was ARMM Gov Mujiv Hataman who talked to them. The meetings happened at the house of the Kirams in Taguig, at the Resorts World and The Fort.
"All the time, there were talks. There were several meetings, the minimum I know of 3 meetings or 4 meetings that Gov Mujiv Hataman spoke to the Kiram Family," said Lacierda.
Hataman served as emissary with police Chief Supt Cipriano Querol Jr. and Lt. General Rey Ardo, all Muslims. (Both generals are associated with the Arroyo regime, however; Ardo was a key officer of Task Force Hope, a military task force that got embroiled in allegations of cheating in the 2004 presidential race.)
Lacierda maintained that the Philippine government has not abandoned the Sabah claim. “The foreign policy dimension, the legal dimension and the historical dimension. That has been made very clear to the Kiram family. In fact, they said it was good that the Sabah claim was being studied,” Lacierda said.
President Benigno Aquino III considers the Sabah standoff as the result of a "conspiracy" that he said could be traced to officials of the past administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Lacierda also talked about reports that some of the Filipinos may have been deceived by "ring leaders" to go to Lahad Datu in exchange for rewards like US$600, land, or positions in the sultanate.
"One station, in fact, interviewed the family of 3 men who went to Lahad Datu. That was the representation made. There are ring leaders and there were followers who were deceived," he said. - Rappler.com