MANILA -- Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas on Tuesday said the Malaysian government is already losing patience over the refusal of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III's followers to leave Sabah and return to the Philippines.
Speaking with radio dzMM, Roxas said that while there is still no imminent threat for the Filipinos who are engaged in a standoff in Sabah, Malaysia is already growing impatient.
The Malaysian government has already given three extensions on the deadline for some 180 followers of Kiram who have been holed up in Lahad Datu town for two weeks now.
"Wala namang sinasabing banta, wala... Pero sa ating analysis, pag-aaral, sa ating mga nakakausap, ay paubos na po ang pasensiya nila," Roxas told dzMM Tuesday morning, following the televised statement of President Benigno Aquino III asking Kiram to recall his followers.
"Isipin na lang natin, kung merong mga dayuhan na pumunta dito sa ating bansa at bigla na lang nagsabi na sa kanila ang kahit anong bahagi ng Pilipinas, may hantungan din ang pasensya natin bagama't gusto nating maresolba ito sa mapayapang paraan," Roxas said.
On Tuesday morning, Aquino called the refusal of Kiram's followers to leave Sabah a "hopeless cause," saying that it puts to risk their safety and those of Filipinos in Sabah.
“You are a leader of your clan, and every leader seeks the well-being of his constituents. These times require you to use your influence to prevail on our countrymen to desist from this hopeless cause,” Aquino said.
Kiram's followers, 20 to 30 of whom are armed, have been holed up in Sabah to claim ownership of the Malaysian territory. They are led by crown prince Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram.
Citing numerous historical accounts and rental receipts from the Malaysian government, they said the Sultanate of Sulu is the rightful owner of the land.
A "humanitarian ship" has been sent by the Philippine government to ferry back to the country the claimants of Sabah. Onboard the ship are Filipino-Muslim leaders as well as social workers and medical personnel.
However, the royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu refused to board the ship, saying Kiram was not officially informed of the government's plan.
"Talagang nababahala ang Pangulo sa kaligtasan ng ating mga kababayan," Roxas said.
"Ang Malaysia ang may hawak ng timing eh. Kahit anong pakiusap natin sa Malaysia, kung gusto na nilang gumalaw, sila 'yung may pwersa, sila 'yung may hawak ng teritoryo dun," he added.
PNoy, Mar concerned for OFWs in Malaysia
The DILG secretary also expressed concern for the safety of some 800,000 Filipinos working in Malaysia.
"Isipin din natin, halos 800,000 ng ating mga kababayan ang nasa Malaysia ngayon, naghahanapbuhay sila dun. Eh kasama pa ito sa karga de konsensya na sinasabi ng ating Pangulo dun kay Sultan Jamalul."
"Halimbawa, kung pauwiin lahat 'yan? Kung magkaroon na ng duda ang mga Malaysians na itong mga Pilipino na naghahanapbuhay dun ay 'di na mapagkakatiwalaan? Mabibigyan ba ng trabaho ni Sultan Jamalul lahat 'yan?" Roxas asked.
Roxas said some government officials are in constant communication with Kiram to bring about a resolution to the long-standing issue.
"May mga inatasang intermediaries. Kabahagi na diyan si Governor Mujiv Hataman ng [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao], kabahagi rin diyan 'yung kinatawan mula sa [Department of Justice] at saka 'yung kinatawan nila sa [Philippine National Police] bilang mga representatives."
"Ilang beses na po silang nagsumikap na mag-reach out at makipag-usap kay Sultan Jamalul at patuloy naman ang kanilang pakikipag-ugnayan, 'yung parating sagot ay medyo hardline," he said.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesperson of the sultanate of Sulu, earlier said an agreement between the sultanate and the Malaysian government, witnessed by the Philippine government, must be reached first before the sultanate's royal army returns to the Philippines.