MANILA, Philippines–The sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III said Sunday he was still open to negotiating with the government, even as he stood his ground on his rejection of its order for his supporters in Sabah to leave without condition.
But as of early afternoon Sunday, no official emissary from the Aquino administration had gotten in touch with the family.
“The negotiation is not too late as I said because everything is open. The door of the sultanate for negotiation is open,” the Sultan told reporters in his home in Taguig City, after morning prayers.
Jamalul made the statement in the face of the Philippine government’s hardline stance on the standoff in Sabah between the sultan’s supporters and the Malaysian police. The sultanate says the supporters are only laying claim to land that is theirs.
President Benigno Aquino III had demanded that the group in Sabah, led by Kiram’s brother Agbimuddin, surrender without conditions. This was after the tension in the area boiled over and led to a gunfight between the two sides that left 12 people dead.
Kiram’s spokesperson, Princess Jacel Kiram, said what the family wanted was for an official emissary to meet with them, one whose communication with them would not be denied by the government later on.
“If they are really concerned and really serious to resolve this peacefully, how hard would it be to sit with us and talk with us directly without going through a middleman? This is a national issue, even international issue. Why can’t our government come to us?” Jacel said.
She said that when the family earlier met with an emissary–Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao officer in charge Mujiv Hataman–the administration announced it did not know an emissary was sent to meet with the family. The government’s denial was reported on TV while the family was talking to Hataman, she noted.
Sultan Kiram said that the Philippine government is stubborn, but he is, too, as well. He said the current issue is a serious one, and many Tausugs and Muslims are prepared to die for the cause.
“This is not a joke. Malaking gulo ito, malaking gulo ito (This is big trouble),” he told reporters.
But he also said he was praying for the problem to be resolved and was not encouraging his supporters to instigate violence. Even his supporters who went Sabah only wanted to settle in that area since it belonged to the sultanate.
He wondered why the Philippine government was siding with Malaysia.
“Why not side [with] us? We are Filipinos and they side with Malaysia?” he said.
Jacel also called on supporters and sympathizers of the family to be calm and not to do anything drastic. She said she had received reports that they are now angry at Malaysians, and reminded them that Malaysians in the country are not their enemies.
“Let’s not do anything that would worsen the situation. Let us all be calm,” she said.
But she said it hurt that the Philippine government had sided with Malaysia on the issue of the Sabah standoff.
She also lamented that the government was treating the Sultanate’s supporters as if they were “terrorists.”
“Why are they treating this as if they are treating a terrorist? All we have in our hands is historical truth. Our only weapon is the truth. Why are we being treated as the enemy?” she said.
She added that the sultanate’s supporters are taking action not for the family alone, but for all Filipinos.
“By the mere fact that the government is stating the statement of the Prime Minister, they are on the same side. As a Filipino, it hurts that your government is siding with Malaysia instead of protecting the interests of many Filipinos,” she said.