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Aquino monitors Sabah in Arroyo province

PAMPANGA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III arrived in San Fernando City in this province Friday afternoon, March 1, the bailiwick of his political nemesis former President now Pampanga Rep Gloria Arroyo, to campaign for his senatorial candidates.

Team PNoy has declared the vote-rich province an "Aquino country" because it delivered for President Aquino in the 2010 elections. Arroyo's presidential candidate former defense chief Gilbert Teodoro was defeated here.

But Aquino could not immediately take the stage to address Pampangeños. He arrived at 2 pm but he was only able to face the crowd at around 3 pm.

Aquino apologized to the crowd. "Pasensiya na ho kayo kung kanina paakyat-baba ako ng entablado. Alam naman po ninyo na may nangyayari sa Sabah. Mukhang natapos na po yung pangyayari. (Forgive me. You know that there's something going on in Sabah. It looks like the incident is over)," he started his speech.

Aquino did not have the complete details on the Sabah firefight when he was speaking before the Pampañgenos. He said he wanted to head back to Malacañang immediatelly to address the issue.

"Hindi pa ho kumpleto ang detalye. Medyo nagmamadali ho tayo pabalik dahil inaasahan natin na pagdating natin sa opisina ay handa na po  -'yung kumpleto yung impormasyon. Alam na po nating yung nangyari ng may katiyakan at naasikaso lahat ng dapat maasikaso. (I don't have the complete details. I expect that once I return to Manila I would be getting the complete details of what happened in Sabah and that we would have fixed things that needed fixing.)

The spokesman of the Sultan of Sulu held a press conference Friday to say that 10 Filipinos died in a firefight in Sabah. Malacañang first denied there was a firefight but the Department of Foreign Affairs later confirmed it.

In spite of Aquino's delayed appearance, the Team PNoy campaign rally proceeded.

Team PNoy senatorial bet Sen Alan Cayetano said he supports President Aquino's position. The President had called on the Filipinos in Sabah to return home. The government sent a ship but they refused to take it.

"I support the President in trying to resolve this peacefully with minimal people hurt," Cayetano said.

He urged the sultan, his relatives and supporters to "think of a way that we can save lives because we know the Malaysian government would not back out and the followers of the  sultan won't do either."

Does he think that the government position favors Malaysia more than the Sultan of Sulu? Cayetao said the President was trying to "separate the claim... from the peace and order situation."

Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III added: "I think we should heighten all the more our diplomatic relations with Malaysia." - with reports from Natashya Gutierrez/RAPPLER