MANILA - Malacañang rejected as “unacceptable” the reported wish of Sultan Jamalul Kiram to speak to President Aquino first before his followers can leave Sabah.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Kiram’s followers should first leave Sabah to defuse the tension, citing the President’s concern about the safety not only of Kiram’s followers but also that of about 800,000 Filipinos living in Sabah.
Lacierda reiterated that President Aquino is willing to engage Kiram in a dialogue after his followers leave Sabah.
“Let’s remove first the tension in the area and then let us discuss. ‘Di ba ‘yun naman ang gusto mo, you want to have a discussion where… there’s no tension and we will talk to you. But in a situation where there are armed people there where the situation is tense in Lahad Datu, you don’t expect us to come and talk to you. It’s like you are forcing us. That’s not acceptable to us. Bumalik kayo rito and we will talk to you,” Lacierda said.
The Sultan also reportedly wants to have a negotiation with the Philippine and Malaysian governments and a third country.
“That’s unacceptable for us. You come home, you deescalate, you defuse the tension, not when there is tension going [on] in Lahad Datu. That’s unacceptable to us,” Lacierda said.
The Palace insisted that the presence of Kiram’s armed followers in Sabah is not helping their claim to Sabah.
Lacierda said it is not a “decent” way to demand negotiations.
“You want a presentation of your claim. You want the government to help [in] your claim… The President has asked them, ‘Come back to the Philippines, we’ll discuss, I will talk to you. You cooperate with us, we will talk to you.’ But what have they said? No, they refuse to. You don’t hold a gun to my head and you negotiate. It’s like you put a gun to my head, mag-usap tayo. That’s not the way decent people do negotiations,” Lacierda said.
“This is not about Sabah. This is about the President’s concern about the welfare of 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah… Trade has already been disrupted in the area,” he said.
Meantime, Lacierda said that the sultanate was consulted on the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), citing the framework agreement’s recognition of traditional customs and traditions.
But the Sabah claim was not taken up, having been considered as “a foreign policy matter” not within the purview of the talks.
Lacierda also responded to the reported complaint of the sultan’s camp that they were not given good seats during the signing of the GPH-MILF framework at the Palace.
“It was such a historic event. People just wanted to come in. There were so many important people there that were present. Even the ambassadors… there was not a section devoted to the diplomatic post. Everybody who was present sat with each other,” Lacierda said.
“It is unfortunate that he is only complaining right now. The fact that he was invited, we recognize. The fact that out of the millions of Muslims in Mindanao, he was invited to come to the Palace and in and of itself, that should be an acknowledgment of the recognition of the traditional leadership in ARMM.”
Lacierda said that the Palace continues to study the Sabah claim, including the lineage of the Sulu sultanate.
At the same time, he said that relations between the Philippines and Malaysia have not been strained because of the incident, citing continued talks between both sides.