MANILA, Philippines - Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario travelled to Kuala Lumpur on Monday, March 4, to reiterate government's request for Malaysia to allow a "humanitarian" mission to assist Filipinos affected by the deadly standoff in Sabah.
The following morning, Tuesday, March 6, Malaysia launched its second assault on Sabah's villages where close to 200 Filipino gunmen have been holed up for 3 weeks now.
Del Rosario's request has yet to be acted upon.
The Foreign Secretary conveyed the request to his counterpart, Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Aman, before flying back to Manila on Tuesday afternoon, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez said on Tuesday.
Part of the request is for the Malaysian government to grant clearance for a Navy ship dispatched to Sabah on February 24 initially to evacuate women and civilians involved in the standoff led by Raja Muda Kiram, brother of self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
Del Rosario asked Anifag for authoritization to "establish [a] safety corridor for women, children and other civilians not involved in the hostilities," the spokesman explained.
Gunfire first broke out in Sabah on Friday, March 1, when Malaysian security forces attacked Lahad Datu. At least 27 people were killed.
While it waits for the request to be granted, the DFA will “continue exploring avenues to avert further loss of lives,” the spokesman added. (Read: Pinoys in Sabah afraid, segregated)
Del Rosario traveled to Malaysia on Monday in a futile “endeavor to walk that last mile to try to save lives in this unfortunate conflict” after the Philippines asked Malaysia to observe "maximum tolerance" in dealing with Kiram's men in Sabah.
Despite the assault launched on Tuesday, the country's top diplomat said that “we intend to fully continue this effort."
President Benigno Aquino III's spokesman earlier said that the Philippines had done all it could to avoid a violent end to the standoff in Sabah.
"We've done everything we could to prevent this, but in the end, Kiram's people chose this path," Ricky Carandang told AFP.
Shortly past noon Tuesday, Malaysia declared the situation "under control" and that were were no casualties on the Malaysian side. It's not clear if arrests had been made.
Supporters of the Filipino gunmen in the Philippines, however, said their communication with those in Sabah had been cut off and they had no way of checking casualty rate.
The Star newspaper of Malaysia reported: "The Sulu armed group was totally routed by [the] Malaysian security forces' overwhelming firepower."
Police and military troops are still in the area, the daily added.
Araham Idjirani, spokesman of Kiram, said that the group, currently holed up in Kampong Tanduao in Lahad Datu, is willing to fight to the end, based on his conversation with Raja Muda Agmibuddin Kiram, the leader of the gunmen in Sabah. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com