President Aquino pitched for peace in resolving the Sabah conflict on Sunday, saying his administration prefers to talk things out.
Criticized for not doing enough to resolve the Sabah conflict, Aquino told the 124 new graduates of Philippine Military Academy here that “earnest dialogue is more effective, more productive, and more beneficial to all, as opposed to pointing weapons at each other.”
“Forbearance and reason are not equivalent to cowardice. On the contrary, these are the measures of true courage and resolve,” he said.
Aquino stressed that the people who provoked the crisis had put about 800,000 Filipinos working and living in Sabah in harm’s way.
He had previously assailed the leaders of the Sultanate of Sulu when their followers’ attempt to assert the sultanate’s claim over Sabah provoked Malaysian authorities to hunt them down, killing more than 60 fighters.
On Sunday, the President told the PMA graduates that true leadership demanded that he should weigh his decisions in favor of Filipinos who were put in harm’s way instead of protecting the Sabah claim that, he said, was “forcefully asserted by the Sultanate of Sulu, no matter how legitimate.”
He cautioned the new graduates that all problems that Malacañang encounters, and which they would soon face as military officers, are rooted in people who act for their self-interests.
“Whether or not the sultanate’s claim over Sabah is legitimate, how can this be weighed against the lives and employment that would be imperiled if outright conflict between our two countries starts? We all know that every action has a resulting reaction, and there are problems that could not be solved using gunpowder–problems will beget problems when addressed by violence or recklessness,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said the new officers would be well aware that buying weapons and gasoline and hiring the vessel that took 200 armed Filipinos on Sabah’s shore, is a logistically complicated and expensive task.
“Did the Sabah incursion masterminds realize that provoking a skirmish would hurt other people? Like the estimated 800,000 Filipinos living and working in Sabah? What would happen if our neighbor, Malaysia, decides to deport these Filipinos after years of earning its trust?” the President said.
He said Malaysian leaders would not simply relinquish Sabah after years of control over the island nor would the Philippines drop its claim, but resolving this dispute requires a calm, studied negotiation governed by international laws.
“We already know how complicated this issue is. Could any Malaysian prime minister so easily agree to let go of a land that for so long has been subject to their laws?” Aquino asked.
He cited the manner by which the country protected its right over the West Philippine Sea using what he called a “rules-based approach” when China began sending vessels to Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.
He also cited the progress made in negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“We have already seen the positive fruits of dialogue with our countrymen who, like us, want the Bangsamoro to progress,” he said.
But senatorial candidates of the United Nationalist Alliance blamed Mr. Aquino for the Sabah crisis.
UNA staged a campaign rally here simultaneously with the sortie of the administration’s Team PNoy.
“The responsibility [for the Sabah dilemma] lies with the Aquino administration,” said former Sen. Ernesto Maceda at a press conference here.
“He never took the side of the Sultanate of Sulu that is why they became exasperated, forcing them to act on their own… From the very beginning, [the administration had not] protected them and the Filipino people in Sabah,” Maceda said.
But Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, a Team PNoy senatorial candidate, in a separate news conference, said the government would not aggravate the situation by provoking conflict.
“Definitely, we cannot gain much with a war with Malaysia. In the 1960s, Congress already passed a resolution calling for a resolution to the Sabah crisis under international laws. And international laws frown upon war. We don’t prohibit self-defense but war would be troublesome. International tribunals on the other hand are for our benefit,” Angara said.
The President arrived here shortly after 9 a.m. He was joined by Vice President Jejomar Binay, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top officials of the military.
Mr. Aquino handed out diplomas to 124 members of PMA Pudang Kalis Class of 2013, led by class valedictorian, Army 2nd Lt. Jestony Lanaja.
The President, in his speech, stressed that conflicts like the Sabah issue are “among the crossroads that [cadets] will face as soldiers.” “Will you allow emotions to cloud your judgment, or will you face challenges with calm?” he asked.
In his valedictory speech, Lanaja, a son of a “tuba” (coconut wine) gatherer from Hagonoy, Davao del Sur, appeared to agree with the President.
“As a young boy, I have always pictured the PMA as a war factory–a laboratory full of experts focused on crafting war machines, custom fitting then steadily improving them for the very purpose of war …
“Indeed we the cadets are custom-fitted, having been molded in accordance with the norms and customs of the military.”
“[But] the academy trains young men and women in the noble profession of soldiery who profess to promote the cause of peace because it is in times of peace that no lives are wagered,” he said. - AFP