MANILA : Malacanang Palace rejected the demand of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III that the government settle the sultanate’s claim over Sabah with Malaysia before his followers would leave the island state, saying they are in no position to set conditions.
“You don’t hold a gun to my head and negotiate. That’s not the way decent people do negotiations. You want us to know your claim, you cooperate,” said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
“The President has said, ‘Come back home, and we will talk.’ But you’re asking me to talk to you while there are people in Sabah – that there’s a possible outcome of violence. That’s not acceptable to us,” Lacierda said.
The Manila Standard quotes the Palace official as saying the primary concern of the government now is the welfare of 800,000 Filipinos in Malaysia who might be endangered because of the armed incursion of some 180 followers of Kiram, led by his brother Agbimuddin.
“Remember, this is not about Sabah. The President’s concern is about the welfare of the 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday that the Philippines has asked Malaysia for another extension – its fourth such request — to its deadline for the Filipinos to leave the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah.
Del Rosario told the reporters that he already asked Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman to extend again its deadline to Tuesday next week, but had not heard back from him yet.
He described the situation in Lahad Datu as “quiet.”
While the government sought to convince the Filipinos in the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah to return, the police threatened to arrest any of them who came back with illegal firearms.
“Once they cross the boundary into the Philippines and they have illegal firearms, we will arrest them because they will be violating the law,” said Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima.
He added that if Kiram condoned the use by his followers of undocumented firearms, he too would be liable under the law.
“If there is a violation we will file charges against him,” Purisima said.
Also on Wednesday, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II urged Kiram’s followers in Sabah to avoid violence and surrender so as not to damage the country’s relations with Malaysia, which helped broker a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Earlier, Kiram said he has ordered his followers to remain in Sabah, even as he hinted openness to negotiating for a “win-win” solution to the claim and to the sultanate’s lease agreement with Malaysia.
“I have given the order to them that they have to stay put. We will leave as long as there is a (negotiated) arrangement made,” Kiram said in a television interview. (Agencies)