MANILA, Philippines – An agreement must be reached between the Sultanate of Sulu and the government of Malaysia before the sultanate's royal army returns back to the Philippines from Sabah, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Abraham Idrjirani, spokesperson of the sultanate of Sulu, said an agreement between the Malaysian government and the sultanate paving the way for continued talks regarding the dispute, witnessed by the Philippine government, is the only thing that can make the royal army return to the Philippines.
This, as President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday asked Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to order some 180 of his followers who have been holed up in Sabah for two weeks to return to the Philippines.
"We will follow unless there is an initial understanding or agreement that is achieved. This is a long process, and therefore there must be fundamental elements that will bind the continuing talks of the long process encircling the dispute of Sabah," Idjirani told ANC's Headstart.
"The position of the sultanate is for the recognition of the ancestral claim of the Sultanate of Sulu over Sabah. Sultan Jamalul Kiram III assured the Republic of the Philippines that as soon as the principled agreement can be concluded, then personally Sultan Jamalul Kiram III will advise the brothers and all the men to come back."
Idjirani also appealed to Aquino to understand their position.
"This is not us showing our opposition to the proposition that our brothers in Sabah to come back. However, we wish the position of Sultanate of Sulu be understood considering this is about dispute of claims," he said.
About 180 followers, 20 to 30 of whom are armed, have been holed up in the town of Lahad Datu for two weeks already on orders from the sultan. They are led by crown prince Datu Raja Muda Agbimmudin Kiram.
The group, citing numerous historical accounts and rental receipts from the Malaysian government, said the Sultanate of Sulu is the rightful owner of the land.
Aquino wants sultan's followers back in PH
At a press conference in Malacañang on Tuesday, Aquino, addressing Kiram, said that the presence of the sultanate's armed followers in the disputed territory will not bring about a resolution to the long-standing issue.
"These are your people, and it behooves you to recall them. It must be clear to you that this small group of people will not succeed in addressing your grievances, and that there is no way that force can achieve your aims," Aquino said.
"You are a leader of your clan, and every leader seeks the well-being of his constituents. These times require you to use your influence to prevail on our countrymen to desist from this hopeless cause."
Aquino said the Philippine and Malaysian governments are now working to reach a peaceful resolution to the standoff.
In view of the deadline set by the Malaysian government for the royal army to leave Sabah, the Philippines has sent a "humanitarian ship" to ferry back the claimants to the country. A number of emissaries have also been sent to the Kiram family to ask them to convince the group in Lahad Datu to return home peacefully.
Aquino also warned the sultan and his followers of possible violations of the constitution with their actions.
The president cited Article II, Section 2 of the constitution which states that the Philippines renounces war as an instrument of national policy, the enabling law of which is Article 118 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes those who "provoke or give occasion for a war…or expose Filipino citizens to reprisals on their persons or property."
Aquino said he has ordered an investigation for these possible infractions. Collaborators who allegedly helped the claimants in reaching Sabah may also be held liable.