Aquino says Sabah is a conspiracy

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Benigno Aquino III is not changing his position to call on Filipinos holed up in Sabah to surrender. There is no room for any negotiation if they continue to bear arms, he said.

"Hindi pa rin nagbabago ang panawagan ko sa angkan ni Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. Hindi risonable ang pang-unawa kung nakatutok ang iyong armas sa mukha ng kausap (My call to the family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram has not changed: it is not reasonable to ask for understanding, if your weapons are pointed at the faces of those you are speaking with)," Aquino said.

"Kung gusto mo talagang umusad ang usapan, tanggalin mo muna ang banta sa kaligtasan ng iyong kausap," the President added.

Amid criticism of how the government handled the standoff, Aquino said the Sabah situation is a result of a conspiracy.

"Mulat tayong may mga taong nagkuntsabahan upang humantong tayo sa sitwasyon na ito. Isang sitwasyon na walang agarang solusyon. Ilan po sa kanila ay nakikita natin habang ang iba naman ay nagkukubli pa rin sa dilim (We are aware that there are those who conspired to bring us to this situation—a situation that has no immediate solutions. Some of their identities are clear to us, while others continue to skulk in the shadows)," the President said in a press conference on Monday, March 4.

Aquino said Sultan Jamalul Kiram III alone could not have ordered the move. "Hindi kakayanin ng angkan ni Sultan Jamalul Kiram III na gawin mag-isa ang gaintong pagkilos. Kapansin-pansin din ang nag-iisang linya ng kritiko para gatungan ang malubha nang sitwasyon (The family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram could not possibly have settled on this course of action alone. We have also noticed how our critics have stuck to a single messaging line to exacerbate a situation that has already grown dire)," the President said.

Aquino blames them for putting the lives of about 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah in danger. "Alam natin ang delubyong tadhana ang may gawa at kung alin ang sinadya. Ang masakit ngayon, pinili ng ilang tao na mangyari ito at sadyang nilagay sa panganib ang napakaraming Pilipino (We can differentiate events that the turbulent winds of fate have caused, from those that have been orchestrated. What is regrettable is that there were those who chose for this to happen, and, in so doing, chose to place many Filipinos in danger)," he said.

Aquino has a message to the so-called conspirators. "Sa mga taong nasa likod nito, ngayon pa lang sinasabi ko sa inyo, hindi kayo magtatagumpay. Pananagutin natin ang nagkasala sa bansa (To the people who are behind this, even now, I tell you: you will not succeed. All those who have wronged our country will be held accountable)," he said.

Citing intelligence reports, Aquino said they have already identified "persons of interest" involved in the plot to move against Sabah. Cases are already being prepared against them, he added.

The President did not name names but he mentioned a "connivance allegedly by certain members of the past administration in the formation of this (armed group), which is a violation of the Constitution and various other laws of the land."

Asked if the conspiracy could lead to former President Gloria Arroyo, Aquino responded: "You are asking me for a conclusion that I wish I had right now. But, again, unless we have the evidence that can be brought before a court that will prove the case, I will not make an accusation," he said.

Aquino said the government is aware that the situation could get worse, but that the other option is a peaceful end to the conflict. Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario is now on his way to Malaysia to work for a possible peaceful resolution to the situation.

Aquino also downplayed the reported crackdown on Filipinos in Sabah. It is "alarmist," Aquino said.

Aquino said the response of Malaysia against the Filipinos in Sabah should be put in context. "Let us be frank with each other: If the situation were reversed, and armed groups entered our own community, would it be possible for us to do nothing? Would we not ask the government for help? Whatever your nationality may be, if there exists a threat to your safety, you would naturally retaliate and find a way to remove your citizens from harm’s way," the President said in Filipino. – Rappler.com