Aquino warns 'conspirators' in Sabah standoff

·Kim Arveen Patria

President Benigno Aquino III on Monday again urged Filipinos staked out in Sabah to lay down their arms, a move which he said would pave the way to peaceful negotiations.

"How can you expect a reasonable discussion when you are pointing a gun to the face of those in the other side?" Aquino said in a press conference at Malacanang.

"If you really want the discussions to progress, do not threaten the safety of the one you are speaking with," he added.

The standoff since Feb. 9 between Malaysian authorities and followers of the Sultan of Sulu, the President said, is the result of a "conspiracy."

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"We are aware that there are those who conspired to bring us to this situation—a situation that has no immediate solutions," Aquino said.

This, as he noted that supporters and members of the family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III could not have orchestrated such a movement by themselves.

"We have also noticed how our critics have stuck to a single messaging line to exacerbate a situation that has already grown dire," Aquino said, adding that such remarks aggravated the situation and put hundreds of lives at risk.

The President refused to identify the supposed plotters, only hinting that "some of their identities are clear to us, while others continue to skulk in the shadows."

He stressed, however, that those behind the orchestrated standoff, which has turned violent on Friday, will be punished.

"[Y]ou will not succeed. All those who have wronged our country will be held accountable," Aquino said.

The President meanwhile assured the public that the government will not be "drained of the strength it will take to put an end to this incident in the soonest possible time."

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario is set to fly to Kuala Lumpur Monday to appeal to Malaysia authorities to exercise maximum tolerance for the Pinoys in Sabah.

Aquino noted, however: "It is clear to us that this situation can worsen, but also that it can come to an end."

"[W]e will be able to put an end to this trouble, if the people involved in it become reasonable, especially those who see themselves as true leaders.," Aquino said.

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