MANILA (UPDATE) - Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas and Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III's younger brother, Sultan Bantilan Esmail Kiram II, met closed-door on Monday to discuss the "disengagement" of the "royal army" from Sabah.
Speaking to reporters, Roxas said his meeting with Esmail was not the first time the government made efforts to talk to the Kiram family about the crisis in Sabah.
He said their meeting had the blessings of Jamalul, whose forces and followers went to Sabah and are currently being hunted down by Malaysian forces.
Roxas said he first met with Esmail last Thursday, and then got feelers about a possible closed-door meeting in Manila over the weekend.
"May mga katanungan sila na gustong maiparating at ito naman ay ipaparating ko. Tulad ng nasabi ni Sultan Esmail, nagkaroon ng pagkakataon na humingi sila ng oras at panahon para mapag-usapan ito at ito naman ay papaunlakan natin," he said.
Esmail is the second crown prince of Sultan Jamalul III. His younger brother, Raja Muda Agmuddin Kiram, is now hiding in Sabah after leading around 200 men to assert their claim over the disputed territory.
A radio dzMM report said Abraham Idjirani, the spokesman of the sultanate of Sulu, said Esmail acts as Officer in Charge (OIC) and handles the affairs of the sultanate in Jolo since Jamalul III is undergoing dialysis in Manila.
Roxas said the meeting centered on the "disengagement" of the royal sultanate army's forces in Sabah to protect innocents who are not involved in the standoff.
He did not elaborate, saying only that it is already public knowledge that Malaysia wants Agbimuddin and his followers to give up their arms.
"Sabihin na lang natin nasa paloob sa disengagement. Lahat tayo ay nababahala sa mga pangyayaring nagaganap ngayon sa Lahad Datu at sa Sabah at binigyan ko rin sila ng updates kung ano yung isinasagawa ng pamahalaan, lalung-lalo na sa DFA, sa pakipag-ugnayan sa pamahalaan ng Malaysia para yung mga inosente at hindi naman kasama dito ay hindi madamay sa mga pangyayari," he said.
The interior secretary said that when the standoff broke out last month, the Malaysian government had requested that Esmail be the one to act as intermediary.
"Isa mga na-request na mamagitan sa sitwasyong ito ay si Sultan Esmail at sinikap ng pamahalaan na siya ay madala dito sa Manila at makipag-usap sa kanyang kapatid at kung kinakailangan ay ihatid sa Brunei o sa Kota Kinabalu kung saan man magkakaroon ng pag-uusap, pero hindi na nangyari itong pag-uusap na ito," he said.
He added: "So, Sultan Esmail is very much aware of all of the efforts undertaken by government bago pa sumiklab ito sa putukan nung March 1 kung ano ang sinsagawa ng gobyerno at sinisikap niya na sariwain ang efforts na ito."
Idjirani, however, denied that the word "disengagement" was discussed in the closed-door meeting between Roxas and Sultan Esmail. He said Esmail is set to brief Sultan Jamalul tomorrow. -- With reports from Edwin Sevidal, radio dzMM, and Nina Corpuz and Jay Ruiz, ABS-CBN News