QUEZON CITY, Philippines - The Secretary of Defense of the Philippines said the military is doing all it can to prevent more undocumented Filipinos it Mindanao from slipping into Sabah state, but said the Sultan of Sulu might have enough reason to believe in the legitimacy of his claim to the Malaysian territory.
Speaking to reporters at Camp Aguinaldo, here, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin expressed hope that the stand-off between Filipino Muslim and Malaysian forces in Sabah will be resolved peacefully.
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Gazmin said he and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista have been closely coordinating as both sides agree that the issue should resolved "amicably, peacefully without any violence whatsoever."
As negotiations are ongoing, Gazmin said efforts are now underway to prevent any more Filipinos from entering the disputed oil-rich state of Sabah which is south of Mindanao.
"We have established a naval blockade in the area so that we can prevent undocumented Filipinos from leaving (through the backdoor)," she said.
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But when asked if the government believes the claim of ownership of Sabah by the Sultanate of Sulu, Gazmin stopped short of giving a direct answer.
Instead, he pointed out why he thinks Sultan Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram and around 250 of his followers are holed up at a compound in the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah: "Kita mo binabayaran ang Sultanate ng... 5,000 ringgit (You can see that the Sultanate [of Sulu] is being paid 5,000 ringgit [Malaysian money])."
Gazmin added: "So, 'pag binabayaran, 'di may claim diba? Yun ang basis mo nun, even without saying anything, the fact na binabayaran so ibig sabihin para saan yun limang libong ringgit di ba? (So when one is paid, doesn't one have a claim? That's the basis [of the claim], even without saying anything, the fact that [the Sultanate of Sulu] is being paid then what is that 5,000 ringgit for, right?)."
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The Defense Chief emphasized, though, that he does not agree with the process by which the followers of Sultan Kiram are staking their claim to Sabah.
"In other words, yung prosesong ginawa nila ay parang hindi tama (The process by which they are staking their claim, is not right)," Gazmin said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday announced a $1.8-billion military upgrade to help defend his country's maritime territory against "bullies", amid an ever-worsening dispute with China.