MANILA, Philippines – Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II and the brother of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III discussed “disengagement” as part of efforts to seek an end to the 4-week Sabah standoff.
Roxas and Bantilan Esmail Kiram II met for nearly two hours in Camp Crame, Quezon City, on Monday, March 11. The two refused to divulge specifics of their discussion, saying the details will first have to be reported to President Benigno Aquino III. Roxas said he will report to the President within the day.
Esmail Kiram is the younger brother of Jamalul, and the elder brother of Agbimuddin (also known as Raja Muda) who is leading the Kiram followers in Sabah.
In a press briefing after the meeting, Roxas said the meeting focused on “disengagement.” He said though that no timeframe for the disengagement was discussed.
The Secretary said he gave the Kirams updates on government efforts to coordinate with Malaysia to ensure the safety of innocent civilians in Sabah. Roxas said the Kirams in turn raised their questions and concerns.
“Napag-usapan lang halimbawa nasa sa publiko naman na sinabi ng lider ng Malaysia na pagbaba ng armas ang pinakakondisyon para magtigil putukan. So isa sa mga tinatanong nila ay anong pamamaraaan, mekanismo. So isa ‘yun sa mga halimbawa na tinatanong,” Roxas said. (We discussed for example that it is already made public that the leader of Malaysia asked that they surrender to stop the fighting. So one of the questions was what is the means, mechanism to do that. So that is an example of one of the questions.)
Roxas was referring to the statement of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak rejecting the Kirams’ declaration of a ceasefire. Najib said the Kirams’ followers should instead lay down their arms.
Asked if surrender was discussed, Roxas responded, “Wag tayong gumamit ng mga salitang maanghang sa tenga sa kapanahunang ito tulad ng salitang iyan. Mas mabuting i-convey natin kung ano ang katanungan nila at alamin natin ang mga sagot.” (Let us not use inflammatory words at this time like that word. It is better to convey their questions and find out the answers.)
At the height of the standoff, the President’s spokespersons called on Kiram’s followers to surrender.
Roxas said the President will help decide on the concerns and questions of the Kirams.
“It’s up to the President. ‘Di naman gaano kadami ito, ‘di gaano kahaba. Medyo ang katangungang ito, masasagot lang ng Malaysia. So sa pamamagitan ng pamahalaan, mapaparating sa kanila, at kailangan ng green light ng Pangulo.” (The list is not that many, not that long. The questions can only be addressed by Malaysia. So through the government, we can convey to them and this needs the green light of the President.)
Kiram is holding a separate press briefing in Makati as of posting time.
Raja Muda and 234 followers crossed over to Sabah exactly 1 month ago to assert the sultan’s historical claim over the territory.
A total of 53 militants and 8 police officers have been shot dead and 85 people have been arrested for possible links to the intruders.
No talk of immunity, conditions
The Secretary also said that possible immunity for the Kiram followers was not directly discussed in the meeting.
“Isa sa tanong: ano kaya mangyayari, nagtatanong lang. Lahat ito ay exploratory, walang conditionality. Kung matagumpay, sa awa ng Diyos, mabuti.” (One of the questions was, what will happen to their followers? All of these are exploratory so there are no conditions. If we’re successful God-willing, then good.)
Roxas said the talk was arranged after a preliminary meeting with Esmail Kiram last Thursday, March 7, in Zamboanga. The Secretary said it was the Kirams who sought the Zamboanga meeting along with the Manila meeting on Monday.
Roxas said both the President and Jamalul Kiram III were aware of the two meetings.
“Dun ko nasabi na kung ano man ang pag-uusap, dapat may basbas o pahintulot mula sa pamunuan ng pamilya Kiram. At sinabi ko rin doon sa Zamboanga dahil maraming hanay ang pamilya Kiram, may iba pang nagsasabi na katumbas sila o pantay ang kanilang claim kay Sultan Jamalul, so para ‘di maguluhan o maging maayos ang pag-uusap, napakahalaga na ang mensahe, ang mga bagay na ito ay magkaroon ng pahintulot.” (I said that whatever discussions, there has to be the blessing of the leadership of the Kiram family. I also said in Zamboanga that because there are other claimants in the Kiram family, to ensure that the discussion will be orderly, it is important that the messages that will be conveyed have the permission of the leadership.
‘Esmail Kiram has direct line to Malaysia’
Roxas also reiterated Palace statements that the government has been in touch with Esmail Kiram even before the fighting broke out in Sabah. He revealed it was Malaysia that specifically asked for the Kiram brother.
“Nung simula, isa sa mga narequest ng Malaysia na mamagitan sa sitwasyong ito ay si Sultan Esmail at sinikap ng pamahalaan na siya ay madala sa Maynila, makipag-usap sa kapatid at kung kailangan ihatid sa Brunei o Kota Kinabalu kung saan man magkaroon ng pag-uusap subalit ‘di na nangyari ang pag-uusap na ito.” (In the beginning, Malaysia requested that one of those who will mediate is Sultan Esmail and the government tried to bring him to Manila, talk to his brother and if needed, send him to Brunei or Kota Kinabalu where there can be talks but this never happened.)
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda earlier talked about the plan but said Jamalul stopped his brother from going to Malaysia and cooperating with the government.
Roxas said Esmail Kiram has a direct line to Malaysia.
“Yung Malaysians mismo ang rectang kumakausap kay Sultan Esmail, ang head ng Sabah police, Zul Kipli. Sila ang nag-usap. At nung pinarating ni Sultan Esmail na bukas ang Malaysia sa pag-uusap, pinaghandaan ng pamahalaan subalit di na nga natuloy ito. Sa anong dahilan ‘di ko alam.” (The Malaysians were the ones who directly talked to Sultan Esmail, the head of Sabah police, Zul Kipli. They are the ones talking. And when Sultan Esmail conveyed that Malaysia is open to talks, the government prepared for that but it did not push through. I don’t know why.)
Roxas said he was open to future talks with Kirams.
Asked of a possibility of talks between the Kirams and Aquino, Roxas said, “Our President is focused on the successful resolution of this problem, to save our fellow Filipinos. According to the Kiram family in their public statements, Sultan Jamalul has the last word. Only he can order his followers.”
“Our President has done everything. He sent 3 sets of emissaries until February 15 when he gave his own public statement.”
Malacañang has said there were at least 3 secret meetings with the government and the Kirams between February 17 to 22. It was ARMM Gov Mujiv Hataman who talked to them. The meetings happened at the house of the Kirams in Taguig, at the Resorts World and The Fort.
Roxas added, “It is very important to address the safety of our fellow Filipinos.” – Rappler.com
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