Wednesday, 01 April 2015 00:00 Published in Headlines
China gave yesterday a cryptic reply to the supposed quid-pro-quo the Philippines offered Malaysia in “downgrading” its Sabah claim in exchange for Malaysian support in the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China as a Chinese official said that China holds a clear position on the South China Sea issue.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that while China does not have information about the talks between Malaysia and the Philippines, it holds a clear position not only on the South China Sea but also in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.
China had rejected the move of the Philippines to bring the territorial friction for arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLoS) as it sticks to its position of negotiating only with countries involved in the overlapping claims over the South China Sea.
“We are willing to work together with relevant countries to properly resolve the disputes through dialog and negotiation and safeguard peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hua said.
The Sultanate of Sulu also lashed out at Malacañang for negotiating with Malaysia on matters involving Sabah as it stressed that the Palace or even President Aquino has no authority to make such a move.
Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman for the Sultanate of Sulu, maintained that the Sabah claim remains under the full authority of Sultan Esmael Kiram II and the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, including the Filipino people.
Idjirani told The Tribune that the Sultanate of Sulu will write a formal note to Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to clarify the content of the note verbale forwarded to Malaysia.
“The Sultanate will send a clarificatory note to Malacañang on the nature and aim of the Philippine government to downgrade the Sabah claim to get Malaysia’s support in order to strengthen its territorial spat with China,” said Idjirani.
“To downgrade or even upgrade is not within the power of Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs. The matter still belongs to, and resides with, the Sultanate of Sulu headed by Sultan Esmael Kiram II, the heirs and the raayat of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi Tawi and Zamboanga Peninsula, Palawan, including the Filipino people,” he added.
The DFA denied dropping the Sabah claim in its note verbale handed to a representative of the Malaysian Embassy last week, shortly after the visit of Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
DFA spokesman Charles Jose said the note’s content is all about the “features in the South China Sea and their implications in the extended continental shelf claims” and Sabah was not part of the note.
However, the note referred to the May 6, 2009 joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in which Malaysia claimed an extended continental shelf (350 nautical miles from baseline) that was projected from Sabah.
The Philippines, in an Aug. 4, 2009 note to the UN Secretary-General, protested the joint submission because it declared Sabah to be Malaysian territory. In the note, the DFA informed the Malaysian government that it was reviewing its 2009 protest and its action would depend on Malaysia’s response to Manila’s two requests related to the South China Sea conflicting territorial claims.
The first request was for Malaysia to confirm that its claim to an extended continental shelf is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia, and not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands.”
The DFA requested Malaysia to confirm that it “does not claim entitlement to maritime areas beyond 12 nautical miles from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands it claims.”
“Even with the denial of DFA that the note verbale focused merely on determining the continental, the DFA should base that on the historic and legal rights of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sulu and Palawan,” said Idjirani.
“The Sulu Sea extended up to the shore of the eastern and western part of Sabah or North Borneo. And by virtue of the definition of UNCLOoS –from the shore of Palawan, the Sultanate of Sulu’s ancestral rights reached up to the South China Sea,” he added.
Idjirani said that the ancestral rights of the Sultanate of Sulu were recognized by China after China agreed to sign a treaty in the Status of an Independent Tributary States, whereby the two sovereign nations in that time mutually agreed also in the principle of on-intervention of each other’s internal affairs
“In discussing issues with vital importance to the national interests, Malacañang and the DFA must reach out to invite Sultan Kiram II. The Sultanate of Sulu in respect to its valid historic over areas in the South China Sea can play an important role in achieving an understanding to the territorial claims of China and the Philippines,” said Idjirani.
“Therefore, based on factual events and the withdrawal of authority of the Philippine government to stand and prosecute the Sabah claim, only Sultan Kiram II can assist to strengthen the legal and historic of the Philippines to assert territorial claims including assertion of a territory and continental shelf lying outside the national boundaries of the Philippines,” Idjirani added.
Idjirani stressed that Malaysia also recognized the authority of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sabah with the annual rent it pays to the sultanate and its heirs.
An ally of Aquino, meanwhile, rejected allegations that Malacañang is going to bribe lawmakers into passing the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law.
According to Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone it would be unthinkable for President Aquino to bribe members of the Lower House, this claim is being made despite the fact that Aquino had bribed the House and the Senate to impeach and convict the then sitting Chief Justice.
“That’s not true. We have not seen even the shadow of the alleged bibe,” Evardone said yesterday.
Rumors were rife that lawmakers would be given P20-million each in exchange for their vote in favor of the passage of the BBL while senators would be given P50-million each. There were reports that the money has been funded through Malaysian money.
Relentless military operations against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group in the provinces of Sulu and Basilan and the remnants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) will continue even during the Holy Week.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office chief, said that “smaller scale” military operations will still be conducted.
“We will have relentless operations against the ASG and also the BIFF remnants,” Cabunoc said.
“In Maguindanao, troop deployment for focused military operations against the BIFF will be in smaller scale,” he added.
The AFP launched all-out law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf group November last year.
Only on Monday, combined police and military elements arrested a ranking BIFF leader in Cotabato City.
Abdulgani Esmael Pagao, the Deputy Commander of the BIFF was arrested in Campo Muslim, Barangay Mother Bagua, Cotabato City at about 8:30 p.m.
Pagao did not resist arrest when the law enforcers served the arrest warrant issued by Executive Judge Bansawan Ibrahim. He yielded a loaded caliber .45 pistol and a fragmentation grenade.
He was turned over to the CIDG for inquest proceedings today. Pagao is the second ranking BIFF leader who was arrested by government troops since the start of the law enforcement operations against the BIFF in February 2015. The first was Mohamad Ali Tambako, the founding leader of the Justice for Islamic Movement.
Another leader, Commander Bisaya, was killed in a clash with the Army troops in Datu Unsay town on March 29.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. ended the “all-out offensive operations” against the BIFF on Monday.
To prevent the BIFF from reorganizing, Cabunoc said that calibrated military operations are being conducted.
“Calibrated law enforcement actions against the bandits using small unit patrols will continue,” Cabunoc said.
Tuesday, 31 March 2015 00:00 Published in Headlines
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday ended its all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao, declaring the defeat of the Moro rebels while admitting that bomb expert Basit Usman and other terrorists have already escaped from the conflict area.
President Aquino vowed before the remains of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and their grieving families last Jan. 29 that his government will get Usman, who escaped Operation Plan “Exodus.”
He was even quoted as saying: “You know me: if I give my word, I will keep it.... I assure you that we will catch Usman,” adding this task is on the top of his list.
But AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. yesterday said the military achieved its objectives in launching the all-out offensives last February 25, even without accomplishing the President’s promise.
“They are defeated in the battlefield by our gallant soldiers, Marines and policemen,” he declared.
According to Catapang, the military accounted for 151 BIFF rebels killed, 65 wounded and 12 captured.
Although the government forces have no actual body count, the military maintained that the figure has been validated.
Catapang said the all-out military offensives have decimated half of the estimated BIFF strength of about 300 armed rebels.
“We have achieved our objectives including the neutralization of more than 50 percent of their ranks, the capture of bomb factories, and the seizure of their enclaves or safe havens in different Maguindanao localities,” Catapang stressed.
“They are now splintered into small groups to evade the pursuing soldiers,” he added.
Ten soldiers were killed in action while more than 30 others were wounded.
The AFP chief, however, admitted that Usman, whose neutralization was among the primary reasons in the launching of the military operations, is already out of the conflict areas.
He vowed that the military will continue to pursue Usman and his terrorist cohorts.
“We will continue to hunt down the terrorists like Basit Usman and his cohorts who are now hiding outside the conflict areas,” Catapang said.
He added the military will closely coordinate with local government in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), particularly Maguindanao, to facilitate the safe return of residents displaced by the month-long conflict.
The military said the evacuees peaked at 120,000 individuals at the height of the offensives against the BIFF in Maguindanao, particularly within the so called “SPMS Box” or the Salvo, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak areas.
As of yesterday, Catapang said around 90,000 people remained inside various evacuation centers or now staying with their relatives outside the conflict areas.
“We are now entering the new phase of our operation which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still, we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao,” Catapang added.
“Now that we have driven out the armed BIFF members and the small group of terrorists led by Basit Usman, we will focus our attention in rebuilding the affected communities. We will help the local government unit, other government agencies and the national government as a whole in delivering public services to the people. We will support the implementation of development projects that are intended to spur the economic activities in these areas,” he added.
Catapang said the President initially approved the release P67 million for various socio-economic interventions in Maguindanao, including the construction of “Bridge of Peace” in Barangay Tukanalipao – which became the face of the Mamasapano clash between the SAF and combined BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last January 25.
The SAF launched Oplan “Exodus” targeting Malaysian terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Amin Baco, alias Jihad, and Usman. The operation resulted in the killing of 44 SAF commandos, including seven junior officers.
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