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Bishop promises to take Sabah issue to Vatican

MANILA (Mabuhay) : The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of The Philippines, Archbishop José Palma, said that he will take the Sabah crisis to the Vatican in order to seek assistance in mediating between the governments in Manila and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Archbishop Palma met with the sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, and his daughter, Jaycel Kiram, together with Abraham Idjirani, a spokesperson for the sultanate, a pastor, Boy Saycon, and a lawyer, Dante Jimenez, at his office in Intramuros, Manila, on April 1.

The group representing the Sultanate of Sulu provided the archbishop with a video, which had been put together by people fleeing the war-torn area.

Idjirani told Archbishop Palma that it contains footage of Filipino people being maltreated by the Malaysian forces.

“We have videos from some of the deportees from Sabah and we’ll hand this copy to the bishops’ conference on Wednesday through Mr. Jimenez showing abuses against Filipinos in Sabah before they were killed,” the princess-daughter of the sultan told CBCP News.

She added, “We went there personally to thank the bishop and also to show Muslim-Christian solidarity in The Philippines… there are Christians also in Sabah.”

Archbishop Palma assured Kiram that he would bring the matter to the permanent council of the bishops’ conference in Manila and would be prepared to go as far as the Vatican in order to get advice from people in the know, who can give good advice on which way to act.

“I believe there are agencies in Rome that can be of service in that regard,” the archbishop of Cebu commented, as he was preparing to travel to the Eternal City to attend the International Eucharistic Congress on April 2.

The meeting between the representatives of the Sultanate of Sulu and the bishop was brokered by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Gausbaug Coalition for Peace and Humanitarian Resolution of Sabah.

Archbishop Palma stressed that the issue at stake in Sabah is not about religion, but peace and harmony.

“Basically it is like brothers going to brothers and saying there is a bond between us and that’s the bond that unites people who search for peace,” he said.

“As we say, there is a Christian and Muslim way of searching for peace, especially in the situation of Sabah,” he added.

Jimenez described the archbishop’s trip to the Vatican as timely.

“He is attending a timely meeting where he promised to bring this matter to any council in Rome and especially to the attention of the new pope,” Jimenez said.

“In fact, I didn’t know that he is going to Rome. Jaycel here is saying it must have been divine providence intervening now and I agree with that,” he went on.

Sayco said they are hoping that the pontiff will at least issue a global appeal for peace.

“We at least expect a global appeal for peace. The sultanate also wants peace. What it really wants to do is sit down and talk. So why is it so hard for these people to understand that dialogue is better than war?” he asked.

“From the very beginning, that is just our appeal that we only want dialogue with them. Both the Malaysian and Philippine governments, if they really want this issue to be resolved, they must prove it,” Jaycel commented.

Around 200 armed men landed on Sabah from Mindanao on February 12. 

The president, Noynoy Aquino, has condemned the action and wants to prosecute them in a Manila court.

The authorities in Malaysia have answered with violence, conducting a series of armed attacks. It is estimated that at least 5,000 Filipinos have fled Sabah and taken refuge in Mindanao.

Over 10.4 million pesos ($1.96 million) worth of aid has already been distributed among the refugees and a mobile service office set up in Tawi-Tawi.