MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines has asked Malaysia to further extend the deadline for the Filipinos taking part in the standoff in Sabah to leave the area, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday, February 27.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario last night asked the Malaysian government for several more days to let self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to study the message delivered to him on Monday by President Benigno Aquino III, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez told reporters.
Hernandez said that Malaysia has not yet responded to the request for a further extension.
The DFA insisted that the priority of the government is the safety of the Filipinos in Lahad Datu and again urged the sultan's followers to consider Aquino's appeal for them to return home so the crisis may be resolved peacefully.
"We are appealing to the Sultan of Sulu to order his men to go home immediately and to take care and to be concerned about their safety in Lahud Datu," Hernandez said.
He explained that once the militants are back in the Philippines, government officials will sit down and discuss their grievances with them.
"When they are back, we can discuss that issue on how to move it forward," Hernandez said.
Photo by Carlos Santamaria
Sultan responsible for group's safety - DFA
Kiram, Hernandez added, will be solely responsible for the safety of his followers, holed up in a small fishing village in Lahud Datu since February 9.
"We don’t want anybody to be killed in that place. The group went there with arms and that is a very provocative and dangerous action on the part of the Kirams. And that is why it is necessary for us to settle this issue first, to bring them back home and to make sure that everyone is safe and there is no loss of life," the spokesman noted.
Aquino on Tuesday warned the sultan that he would face the "full force of the law" unless he withdrew his gunmen from Malaysia.
Kiram however remained defiant and demanded talks with the President and a share in the future profits of Sabah's economic growth to tell his followers to stand down and return to the Philippines.
The government is also worried that the ongoing standoff will put at risk about 800,000 Filipinos living and working in Malaysia, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said on Wednesday.
Sulu once controlled once controlled parts of Borneo, including the site of the standoff, until the Muslim rulers leased Northern Borneo to the British Empire in the 1870s for an annual fee that has not been revised.
Graphic by Matt Hebrona
Study group to review Sabah claim
Before the request for an extension of the deadline was announced, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda confirmed that upon the President's orders, a study group is being formed to review the historical claim over Sabah.
"The DOJ is studying the legal basis of the claim. The DFA is looking into the policy issue, and the PCDSPO is looking at the historical research of the claim. So that is right now being studied," Lacierda explained during a press briefing in Malacañang.
Regarding the possible filing of charges against Kiram and his men for their actions in Sabah, the government spokesman said that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is looking into the matter and noted that the sultan's statement that no offense was committed is only "their view."
"In our view, what Sultan Kiram [did] by ordering his brother to go to Sabah has endangered the relations between Malaysia and the Philippines," he stressed.
Lacierda also reiterated Aquino's message to the sultan and addressed confusion about how the President mentioned Sabah as a "hopeless cause."
Aquino, he explained, said in his statement that Kiram's cause is a "hopeless" one because of the way it was presented by sending armed gunmen to the territory, but not the claim itself. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com