Aquino sets ultimatum to Filipino Sabah claimants

A Malaysian police commando stands guard in the village of Sahabat 17, near Lahad Datu, on the Malaysian island of Borneo on February 19, 2013. The followers of a Filipino sultan made a boat trip from their homes on remote islands in the southern Philippines to occupy a Malaysian fishing village two weeks ago, after the sultan gave them a blessing to live there

While promising to listen to the grievances of the Filipino Sabah claimants, President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino has ordered their Sultanate leader to ask his followers to leave Sabah.

This comes a day after the government sent "mercy ships" to Sabah, Malaysia to convince dozens of Filipino men, a handful of them armed, to return home. Negotiations have also been ongoing in the past week.

Prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram's followers for two weeks have been holed up in Lahad Datu town, now surrounded by Malaysian authorities.

"The right thing to do now would be to order your followers to return home as soon as possible. The choices and consequences are yours. If you choose not to cooperate, the full force of the laws of the state will be used to achieve justice for all who have been put in harm’s way," Aquino said in a press briefing Tuesday.

Related story: Sultan says followers won't leave Borneo 

Aquino also said a probe has been launched against Kiram and his followers and that charges could be filed should Kiram refuse to heed his warnings.

"As President and chief executor of our laws, I have tasked an investigation into possible violations of laws by you, your followers, and collaborators engaged in this foolhardy act. May I remind you as well that as a citizen of the Republic, you are bound by the constitution and its laws," he said, noting that possible charges include violation of Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Addressing Kiram, Aquino also warned the stand-off might affect PH's relations with Malaysia.

Related story: 'Sabah is our home' 

"Filipinos residing in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, who trade with Sabah, have had their commerce disrupted. Most of these people are your fellow Muslims. This is a situation that cannot persist," said Aquino.

Aquino, however, admitted a lapse on their part, for not reacting to Kiram's letter sent to his office back in 2010.

"I have just been made aware that a letter to me, from you, was sent through OPAPP in the very first weeks of my term, when we were organizing the government. Unfortunately, this letter was lost in the bureaucratic maze. Let me make clear that there was no intention to ignore your letter. Knowing this now, will you let your mistaken belief dictate your course of action?" said Aquino.

But Aquino notes a "peaceful and open dialogue" is still an option, as he vowed to "sit down as brothers to address your grievances."

Related slideshow: The Sabah standoff


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