ILOILO, Philippines, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III said on Thursday that use of force is not the solution to the standoff between Malaysian security forces and over 100 armed Filipinos in Sabah.
In an interview on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project II in the central Philippine province of Iloilo, Aquino said that his administration has been talking to parties concerned including the family of the Sultanate of Sulu to ensure peaceful resolution on the standoff.
The standoff started last Wednesday after the followers of the Sultan of Sulu Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram landed in Kampung Tanduo in Sabah. "If you use arms, of course you should expect that the other side will only have one option to that challenge. So it's not the solution," Aquino said.
He cited the need for cooperation among all the entities concerned to achieve a resolution on the current crisis and later on a long-term solution to the dispute.
The President disclosed that the Philippine government has been studying the Sabah issue and has compiled available data, including the treaty signed in 1878, which contains several amendments and is written in several languages, such as English, French and local dialect Tausug.
He admitted that the existing documents are not easy to understand and have to be studied thoroughly.
At the same time, Aquino acknowledged the good relationship between the Philippines and Malaysia, which has been helping in forging a peace agreement between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines.
"They (the Malaysians) have been very, very friendly to us. And they have been very, very supportive to us. And we have to, as a brother nation in ASEAN, also have to respond," he said.
In a separate briefing in Manila, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario renewed his appeal to the followers of the Sulu Sultanate to leave Sabah peacefully.
"We are trying our best to urge the Filipinos who are in that place to consider withdrawing and doing this peacefully and expeditiously. That remains work in progress," he said.
Del Rosario said the Philippines continues to work with the Malaysian government in facilitating the peaceful withdrawal of the Filipinos, who refused to leave until the Malaysian government heeds their demand to re-open talks on unresolved claim of the sultanate on Sabah.
Del Rosario said President Aquino's directive is to "do everything possible to try and urge them to peacefully withdraw and to do this as quickly as possible within the deadline that's enforced."
The standoff in Sabah has entered a second week with the Malaysians saying the situation is under their control.
The armed Filipinos reportedly holed up in Sabah are currently surrounded by the Malaysian police, military and naval forces waiting either to escort them out of Sabah or assault them if they insisted on occupying the territory they claim as their homeland.
Sabah, located south of Mindanao, is territorially disputed by the Philippines and Malaysia. A Philippine claim for sovereignty over island has laid dormant for decades, but Malaysia continues to pay a yearly rent to the heirs of Sultan of Sulu.
Every year, hundreds of Filipinos enter Sabah illegally through Mindanao in search of a better life.
Most of the undocumented Filipinos in Sabah hail from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and other far-flung provinces in the south that are among the Philippines' poorest and plagued by war.
It is believed that close to 200,000 Filipinos are working and staying illegally in Sabah, but the figures could be higher.