Aquino turns emotional over Sabah

Natashya Gutierrez

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President Aquino visits Mindanao as the conflict in Sabah continues, where he got emotional as he talked about the attack that killed 12 Filipinos

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III visited Mindanao as the conflict in Sabah continues, where he got emotional as he talked about the attack that killed 12 Filipinos.

On Wednesday, March 6, Aquino joined his coalition Team PNoy on the campaign trail. During his speech, Aquino could not help but explain and defend his perspective on the situation in Sabah.

“What’s happening is a propaganda war. I’ve talked to them (the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III) several times, that if they could leave, we could talk about the problem peacefully,” he said in Filipino. “Is that wrong? Is what they’re doing right, that we should support them as they carry arms? When there has already been killings?”

On Friday, March 1, gunfire broke out in Sabah between the followers of one of the Sultan of Sulu’s heirs, Jamalul Kiram III, and Malaysian police at the disputed island, after a 17-day standoff.

Aquino also expressed regret over what happened, adding that they are putting the country’s relationship with Malaysia in peril.

“In their fight, they are including all of us,” he said.

“Our relations with Malaysia are getting better and better then all of a sudden this happened. Malaysia must wonder, ‘Is our relationship always going to be like this? Will we always be fighting over Sabah? Sayang (What a waste).”

He encouraged the crowd to understand his stance, and to “support what is right.” Aquino also apologized for turning emotional in the middle of his speech.

He recalled a near-death experience from his younger days, to emphasize the seriousness of loss of lives.

“I’m sorry if there is some emotion involved,” he said. “I was ambushed in 1987… the one I credit for saving my life… he never saw his son who was about to born. Another two we were with, were about to get married (but died).”

He added, “We’ve all fought for something… but it should be for the right cause. It starts not from anger towards others, but for the rights of others.”

Aquino has been criticized for allegedly mishandling the situation and for siding with the Malaysians instead of Kiram’s followers. Aquino has repeatedly asked Kiram to withdraw from Sabah but they have refused to leave.

Malaysia has threatened to wipe out the followers who are still left on the island. –

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.