MANILA - The Aquino administration is assessing the legality of the Sultanate of Sulu's claim on Malaysia's Sabah state, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Thursday.
De Lima said the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to help peacefully resolve the standoff between the followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram and Malaysian security forces.
De Lima said the DOJ will issue a legal opinion on the sultanate's claim.
"We are looking at the validity or legal basis of the claim as well as an assessment of its strength or weakness, as the case may be," she told media.
"As far as feasible, the study will entail a review of available materials and literature, including previous studies," the DOJ chief added.
De Lima said President Benigno Aquino gave her the priority assignment.
"There's no deadline but it's understood to be a priority assignment. I will try to finish in few days," she said.
Aquino also ordered the Palace legal team and the Department of Foreign Affairs to address the issue, according to de Lima.
Malaysian security forces in Sabah have surrounded hundreds of of Filipinos calling themselves the "Royal Sulu Sultanate Army."
The Crown Prince of the Sultanate of Sulu said he and his followers will not leave Lahad Datu town in Sabah until the right to ownership of the territory is resolved.
Malaysia pays a token amount of around P70,000 to the Sultanate each year for the "rental" of Sabah state - an arrangement that stretches back to British colonial times.