DFA chief: Sabah conflict not discussed in ASEAN summit
“There was no discussion regarding the Sabah conflict,” Del Rosario told reporters at a briefing in Malacañang, a day after the Philippine delegation, led by President Benigno Aquino III, arrived from the summit.
Del Rosario said there was no opportunity to discuss the issue as both the Malaysian Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister were absent during the overnight event. Kuala Lumpur only sent representatives, he said.
“The Foreign Minister was not present, and the Prime Minister also was not present. I understand they were busy during elections in Malaysia,” Del Rosario said.
“They had a representative there, they had the Senate president attending in the place of the Prime Minister, and they had the Vice Minister attending for the Foreign Minister,” he added.
Malaysian forces recently launched an assault against dozens of followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III who sailed to Sabah from Mindanao to press the sultanate's claim on the disputed area. Scores had been arrested, with reports on fatalities varying from 50 to 60. Eight Kiram followers have since been charged with terrorism by the Malaysian authorities.
Not in agenda
Del Rosario said the issue was not in the official agenda of the summit as member-countries have a standing agreement to limit the discussion on such conflicts among the nations involved.
“To begin with it was not part of the agenda. Also the position of the Philippines and of the ASEAN historically is that if there are disputes within member-states it should be discussed bilaterally, and we have taken that route,” he said.
Del Rosario said efforts by the Philippine government to iron out the Sabah issue are ongoing.
“All throughout the conflict I have been in regular contact with the Foreign Minster and I must say on several occasions I have been present when the President spoke by phone to the Prime Minister himself,” he said.
35 Pinoys killed?
Meanwhile, Del Rosario denied the report by a Malaysian newspaper that 35 armed men were shot dead by Philippine forces while trying to enter Sabah.
“I consulted our own intelligence people, [those who are] concerned with being out there, and no one has been able to validate these reports,” he said, adding that he will personally ask the Malaysian Foreign Minister about the issue.
“I will say as a matter of conversation that when the time is appropriate I will ask my counterpart if he knows about this report, and we'll see how that goes,” Del Rosario said. — Patricia Denise Chiu/KBK, GMA News