MANILA, Philippines – With an ongoing standoff in Sabah, now is not the time to discuss the Philippines’ historical claim over the region, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Thursday, February 21.
“We are not at the time of discussing the claim,” Del Rosario replied when pressed on the issue by reporters during an open forum sponsored by the Manila Overseas Press Club in Muntinlupa.
President Benigno Aquino III had earlier commented that sending armed men to Sabah is the wrong way to resolve the Philippines’ historical claim over the territory.
The priority of the government, the country’s top diplomat stressed, is to get the 180 Filipinos holed up in Lahad Datu “back home safely” and without any violence on their part or from the Malaysian security forces.
Del Rosario added that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has ascertained that the group itself is not armed, only their escorts, and that there are women and civilians among them.
For the moment, they have not been disarmed, and the Malaysian government has given them until Friday to leave the area peacefully before the security forces proceed to deport them back to the Philippines.
Should the group insist on staying in Sabah, Del Rosario explained, the government will ask for an extension of the deadline “until we achieve our objective…of getting them out of there peacefully.” – Rappler.com