MANILA, Philippines—The peace talks in Mindanao should remain as the government’s priority despite the Sabah crisis, said one of the two Muslim emissaries sent by Malacañang to talk to Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III about three weeks ago.
“We can see the trees but not the forest. The bigger issue here is the peace process in Mindanao. We are now on the final stages of the framework agreement which is being mediated by the Malaysians,” Justice Assistant Secretary Zabedin Azis, who went with Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujib Hataman on Feb. 18 and 19 to the Kirams.
“Just in case this peace process will be derailed, God forbid, I am sure this could lead to another round of bloodshed in Mindanao. Kawawa naman mga kababayan natin…I told him that ‘you would have to take into consideration the life of your brother Muslims. Your case has been here for years. What the government want is for your armed men to come back, the President was even willing to meet them but not under force and intimidation’,” Azis said.
But he pointed out that it does not mean forgetting the Sabah claim, saying it can and will be discussed only after his Royal Army in Sabah returns to the Philippines.
“The President was even willing to meet with them but not under force and intimidation,” he said adding that part of the deal was no one will be charged.
During their two-day talks with the Kirams, he said the family has already agreed to pull out their troops in Sabah, thus, arrangements were made for the military to send out ships to fetch the Sultan’s troops.
Then, Azis said, all of a sudden, there was a change of heart.
“Parang nag-iba ang ihip ng hangin,” he said although he said he has no idea what changed the mind of the Sultan.
Azis denied the allegations of the Kirams that Aquino’s emissary threatened them.
“We never threatened them. In fact, the atmosphere was very friendly during our talks,” he said.
They were the second batch of emissaries sent by Malacañang to the Kirams. The first were National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia Jr. and Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas.