MANILA, Philippines - The Sultanate of Sulu wants Malaysia to return Sabah to the control of the Philippines, the spokesman for Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III said yesterday.
Abraham Idjirani issued the statement as he stressed that the almost 200 members of the Royal Army loyal to Kiram III will remain holed up in Lahad Datu in Sabah “for as long as it would take” to resolve a standoff that has lasted for almost a week now.
Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the Sultan’s brother, along with his followers went to Sabah under the orders of the Sultanate of Sulu last week to press their bid to reclaim their ancestral land.
Idjirani said the members of the army will not leave Sabah until the issue on control of the area is resolved.
Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo prior to the formation of the Malaysian Federation in 1963, has long been claimed both by the Philippines and Malaysia.
The Philippines is claiming it by way of the heritage of the Sultanate of Sulu, which says that Sabah was only leased to the British North Borneo Co. with Sulu’s sovereignty never relinquished.
This dispute stems from the difference in the interpretation used on an agreement signed between the Sultanate of Sulu and a British commercial syndicate in 1878, which stipulated that North Borneo was either ceded or leased (depending on the translation used) to the British syndicate in return for the payment of 5,000 Malayan dollars per year.
Idjirani said Kiram and the members of his royal army are not making moves to instigate a confrontation with the Malaysian forces surrounding them.
“Raja Muda and his men are just sitting. They remain on alert but there are no untoward incidents,” he said.
Idjirani said some Filipinos living in Sabah have also joined the ranks of the prince’s men.
Meanwhile, Idjirani pleaded to President Aquino to help resolve the issue peacefully.
He said the Sultanate of Sulu has sent a letter to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, informing him of their demand.
“Being a Filipino citizen, he (President Aquino) should help us,” he said.
Idjirani also called on all Filipinos, both Muslims and Christians, to support the Sultanate of Sulu in its bid to reclaim control of Sabah for the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the military has enforced a naval blockade in the Sulu Sea to prevent undocumented Filipinos from entering Sabah amid the continuing standoff between the followers of Kiram and Malaysian security forces, the Department of National Defense (DND) said yesterday.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that while the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu may have basis for reclaiming Sabah as their ancestral land, the process they are pursuing right now is wrong.
Earlier, the Philippine Navy announced that it has deployed six naval gunboats in the country’s southern backdoor as tensions mounted in Sabah, with the Malaysian authorities issuing an ultimatum to the group of Raja Muda to leave Lahad Datu by yesterday.
“We have put up a naval blockade in the area so that we could stop our undocumented fellow Filipinos from leaving (for Sabah),” Gazmin said.
Malacañang, for its part, maintained yesterday the Philippines’ claim over Sabah would “be dealt with at the proper time and under the correct conditions” and that the priority was still the peaceful resolution of the standoff in Lahad Datu town.
“From the beginning of this incident the administration has been working quietly with the Malaysian government and the Kiram family to peacefully resolve this standoff,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Valte said President Aquino had disclosed he formed a team to look at the historical and legal context of the Sabah claim and that it would be pursued “in a way that upholds the national interest and does not jeopardize our relationship with our good neighbor.”
On Thursday, Aquino confirmed he had been talking to stakeholders in the continued standoff in Sabah, including the family of Kiram III.
“We have been dealing with this. We have been talking to parties concerned, including the family of the sultan, to ensure a peaceful resolution,” Aquino said.
“Of course that doesn’t rest entirely in our hands. There has to be cooperation among all entities to achieve, first, a resolution on the current crisis, and later on probably a long term solution to this dispute,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario also said that the Philippines has requested Malaysia to extend the deadline for the followers of the Kiram family to leave Lahad Datu. – With Jaime Laude, Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago