MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III offered to not file charges against the Filipinos involved in the standoff in Sabah in exchange for their peaceful withdrawal but the the group refused the deal.
"With the peaceful withdrawal, the President initially offered that no charges would be filed and that an avenue for discussion would be made available," the DFA explained in a Q&A submitted to media outlets early on Wednesday, March 6.
Malaysia agreed to this deal, which is still being explored even if hostilities are ongoing.
The department stressed that since the beginning of the crisis, the government pursued all options to peacefully resolve the standoff, but the proposals submitted to former Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III "did not merit acceptance by all parties and those that did could not be implemented in time."
"The Philippine government’s constructive efforts were overtaken by events that were beyond its control," the DFA said.
Photo courtesy of DFA
Del Rosario's futile Malaysia trip
Aquino on Monday, March 4, sent Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to Kuala Lumpur to make a last-minute attempt to resolve the crisis without loss of lives.
Del Rosario asked his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman for the security forces to exercise "maximum tolerance" with Kiram's men.
The DFA chief also reiterated the Philippines' request for Malaysia to grant clearance for a Philippine Navy ship to go to Lahud Datu to provide humanitarian and consular assistance to Filipinos affected by the standoff, especially women and civilians "not involved in the hostilities," the department said.
Both requests, the DFA explained, "are still being considered [by the Malaysian government] in light of the security environment" in Sabah.
Del Rosario explored during his trip the possibility of Malaysia allowing an "unconditional surrender" of Kiram's group "to avert further loss of lives and allow them to return to their respective homes and families."
"Negotiations for this remain in progress" and the Philippines "will continue to explore all possible channels in an effort to achieve the objective of minimizing the loss of life and bringing the matter to an expeditious conclusion," the DFA said.
Kiram's group not 'terrorist'
The DFA likewise reacted to a statement from the the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which claimed that Del Rosario agreed to label Kiram's men as "terrorists."
"Malaysia considers this group as terrorists following their atrocities and brutalities committed in the killing of Malaysia’s security personnel, 2 in Lahad Datu and 6 in Semporna, Sabah. Secretary [Del] Rosario agreed that this group should be labelled as terrorists," the statement said.
Philippine ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya, who was present at that meeting, clarified that "the report is out of context" and the Foreign Secretary did not label the Filipino group as “terrorist.”
The DFA did admit however that "acts of terrorism" did occur in Semporna, where -- according to Anifah -- "after [local] police forces were lured into an ambush and killed, their bodies were brutally mutilated and desecrated."
A Malaysian government official on Tuesday favored the filing of murder charges against the Filipinos for these crimes.
If the charges are filed, the DFA said that "consistent with the President’s policy of caring for the Filipino people wherever they are, the Philippine government will provide [them] the necessary assistance." - Rappler.com