MANILA (UPDATE) – The royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu will not board the "humanitarian ship" that the Philippine government sent to ferry back to the country the claimants of Sabah, a spokesperson said Monday.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesperson of the sultanate, said Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was not officially informed of the government's plan. Thus, no repatriation of the sultan's 100 followers, led by the sultan's brother and crown prince Raja Muda Azzumudie Kiram, will occur.
"Maliwanag, kahit sino ang ipadala, kapag walang pirma ang sultan ng Sulu, na si Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, kung saan sinasabi na ito ang pupunta sa inyo, hindi niya (Raja Muda Azzumudie) kakausapin. Sapagkat ang understanding ngayon ay dapat napagbigay alam kay Sultan Jamalul Kiram III," Idjirani told dzMM.
"Hindi tayo nagmamatigas, ngunit pinapaliwanag lang natin na dapat ganoon ang mangyayari para alam ni Raja Muda kung sino ang kakasuapin at 'di kakausapin."
Asked if the sultan's followers, who have been holed up in the town of Lahad Datu since February 9, will budge, Idjirani said: "Gaya ng sinabi niya, ni-reiterate niya, pwede na silang hakutin kung sila ay malamig na bangkay."
In a statement released late Sunday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said: "As we have stated in countless occasions previously, we call on the entire group to go back to their homes and families, even at the same time we are addressing the core issues they have raised. Please do so for your own safety."
The DFA chief said a ship "on a humanitarian mission" will fetch and ferry back the women and other civilians from the "royal army's" group.
"We sent the ship to Lahad Datu on a humanitarian mission. We are deeply concerned about the presence of five women and other civilians in the group, and we urge them to board the ship without delay and return home," he said.
Onboard the ship are Filipino-Muslim leaders as well as social workers and medical personnel. The ship, with hull number AT296, will sail from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu.
In a report, Malaysia’s The Star Online said the Friday deadline set for the group to leave "was extended by 48 hours after the Philippine government requested for a four-day extension till Tuesday on the grounds that Manila was trying to persuade the Sulu group to give up their stand."
In an interview with ANC on Monday, DFA Spokesperson Raul Hernandez said the Malaysian government has yet to respond to the Philippine government's request for extension.
"We have been talking to the Malaysian side regarding the extension of deadline up to Tuesday. So far, they have not come back to us officially. And some government officials are also talking to the Kirams so that they would make sure that they are able to leave Lahad Datu expeditiously and peacefully," Hernandez said.
"We hope they would take the whole picture in a positive light. We hope that we are able to solve the issue of the stay of the group in Lahad Datu as soon as possible."
The group said they have claims over Sabah, citing numerous historical accounts and rental receipts from the Malaysian government.