MANILA (4-Mar-2013) – Multisectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) condemned the Malaysian government for resorting to the use of excessive force instead of pursuing peaceful negotiations with the followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo in an attempt to end the standoff. The violent confrontation reportedly claimed 12 followers of the Sultanate and two Malaysian police officers.
“The Malaysian government should be held to account for using its overwhelmingly superior force to subdue the disproportionately smaller and weaker group of the Sultanate’s followers, thus leading to the unnecessary loss of lives. It was a massacre,” Bayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo said.
On February 9, a group of several hundred people sent by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III arrived in Lahad Datu, Sabah to exercise the Sultanate’s territorial claims.
Araullo argued that the Malaysian authorities should have exercised more caution in dealing with such a volatile situation that was triggered by a legitimate cause. “The Malaysians know very well that the Sultanate has a rightful claim over Sabah and decades of mistreatment have pushed it to take such a risky action,” said Araullo.
“It is on record, for instance, that the Malaysian government has been paying an annual paltry sum to the Kirams which validates the Sultanate’s assertion of ‘ownership’ over the disputed territory. Considering these issues, the Malaysian authorities should have exhausted all peaceful and diplomatic avenues to resolve the impasse instead of sending commando forces against a group that also includes women and children,” Araullo added.
Bayan has also criticized the Philippine government for reinforcing the tough stance taken by the Malaysians with threats of criminal charges against the Sultanate’s followers and asking the group to leave the occupied village of Lahad Datu in Sabah without any recognition of their territorial claims backed by strong historical and legal grounds.
“The position held by Aquino emboldened the Malaysian authorities to take drastic actions. It was grossly insensitive and irresponsible on the part of Aquino. It affirmed the sentiment of the people of Sulu of being neglected and abandoned by their own government,” Araullo said.
Such callousness by the Malaysian and Philippine governments has further stirred resentment and fuelled more instability in Mindanao, according to Bayan. “The crux of the never-ending Moro conflict is the dispossession of the people of their lands and the poverty resulting from such dispossession, worsened by decades of disregard by the national government. The bloody turn of events in Sabah merely affirmed the sentiment of Muslims in Mindanao of being abandoned,” said Araullo.
Bayan demanded that Malacañang ask the Malaysian government to suspend the military and police offensive and try to seek a peaceful settlement. It also said that the Malaysian government should allow the local and international media to freely cover and report the events in Lahad Datu so that the public can have a better appraisal of the situation especially amid conflicting accounts from Malaysian and Filipino authorities and the Kiram family.