The head of the country's bishops’ conference yesterday said he will bring the conflict between Malaysia and the Sulu Sultanate to the attention of the Vatican.
Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu made the assurance after meeting with the so-called Sulu sultan, Jamalul Kiram III, yesterday.
"I believe there are agencies in Rome that can be of service in this regard," Palma said after the meeting.
Nearly 5,000 Filipinos have fled Sabah since bloody hostilities erupted last month between the followers of the sultan and Malaysia’s armed forces. An estimated 4,721 people have taken refuge in Mindanao, according to a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
Palma said the situation in Sabah is not about religion anymore but about the "search for peace and harmony."
"There is a Christian and Muslim way of searching for peace, especially in the situation of Sabah," Palma said after the 30-minute talk with Kiram. The meeting was arranged by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption and the Gausbaug Coalition for Peace and Humanitarian Resolution of Sabah.
Palma left yesterday for the International Eucharistic Congress at the Vatican.
Princess Jaycel Kiram, the sultan's daughter, expressed thanks to Palma, saying the meeting shows "Muslim-Christian solidarity in the Philippines."
"The sultanate wants peace. What it really wants to do is sit down and talk," she said. "For both Malaysia and the Philippines, if they really want this issue to be resolved, they should prove it [through dialogue]."
About 200 of Kiram's followers, headed by so-called Sulu Crown Prince Agbimuddin Kiram, went to Sabah on February 12 in a bid to "reclaim" their homeland, which led to a standoff with Malaysian security forces.
Malaysian authorities later responded by conducting a series of attacks, resulting in the death of at least 60 people.
The origin of the claim dates back to the end of the 19th century during British colonial rule of Malaya and is complicated – in theory – by the Kiram's assertion that he is the rightful ruler of all of Sabah, one of the 13 states of Malaysia which covers more than 73,500 square kms.
Sabah is home to thousands of Filipino Muslims who have left areas plagued by decades of insurgency wars in adjacent Mindanao.