MANILA, Feb 27 (Mabuhay) -– The Philippine government will not hold talks on the Sabah issue unless the Sultanate of Sulu recalls its followers who have been holed up in Sabah for two weeks already, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Raul Hernandez said on Wednesday.
Hernandez appealed anew to Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to order his followers to leave Sabah and go back to Mindanao.
“We believe that the ball is now in Kiram’s court and they should be concerned for the well-being and safety of the followers in Lahad Datu. As a responsible leader, we expect Sultan Kiram to now order his men to leave the area,” Hernandez said.
“The Kirams are inviting a harsh reaction from the Malaysian side. In order to settle this peacefully and expeditiously, the followers of the sultanate should leave the area as soon as possible.”
The situation in Sabah remains deadlocked, with both the Philippine government and the Sultanate of Sulu insisting on their conditions.
The sultanate, citing numerous historical accounts and rental receipts from the Malaysian government, said the Sultanate of Sulu is the rightful owner of the land.
The followers in Sabah, led by crown prince Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, said they will not leave the disputed territory unless they reach a concrete agreement with the Malaysian government.
The sultanate is asking the Philippine government to intercede in the agreement, which will recognize the claim of the sultanate over Sabah.
Hernandez, however, said talks will only take place once the followers leave Sabah.
“The government is prepared to dialogue and consult in order to move this issue forward once they are back in their respective areas in Mindanao,” Hernandez said.
He said the Philippine side is not aware of the plans of the Malaysian forces in Sabah, but Philippine diplomats are already in Malaysia to resolve the standoff “peacefully and expeditiously.”
The “humanitarian” ship sent by the Philippines, meanwhile, is also on standby in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi, an area close to Sabah. The ship is supposed to ferry back the sultan’s followers to the Philippines.
Hernandez said the priority of the Philippines now is to ensure the safety of the Filipinos staying in Sabah.
“We believe the number of undocumented Filipinos is by the hundreds of thousands. [There are] a few hundreds of documented Filipinos there,” he said.
“If this is not resolved peacefully, we are concerned that their safety and welfare would be jeopardized.” (MNS)