Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sabah / North Borneo and the Sultanate of Sulu


The Sultanate of Sulu Dar al-Islam    was an Islamic Tausūg  statethat ruled over many of the islands of the Sulu Sea, in the southern Philippines and several places in northern Borneo. The sultanate was founded in 1457 by a Johore-born Arab explorer and religious scholar Sayyid Abu Bakr Abirin after he settled in Banua Buansa Ummah (ummah is an Arabic term for "community"), Sulu. After the marriage of Abu Bakr and local dayang-dayang (princess) Paramisuli, he founded the sultanate and assumed the title Paduka Mahasari Maulana al Sultan Sharif ul-Hāshim. It is believed that the people at that time considered Sharif ul-Hāshim to be a direct descendant of Islamic prophet Muhammad as this is what "Sharif" denotes.

At the end of 14th century, a notable Arab judge and religious scholar named Karim ul-Makhdum from Mecca arrived in Malacca Sultanate. He preached Islam to the people, the reason why many citizens, including the ruler of Malacca, converted to Islam.

Sulu and other Muslim sultanates were introduced to Islam by Chinese Muslims and Arabs. Chinese Muslim merchants participated in the local commerce, and the Sultanate had diplomatic relations with Ming Dynasty China, being involved in the tribute system, the Sulu leader Paduka Batara and his sons moved to China, where he passed away and Chinese Muslims brought up his sons.[22]
In 1380 AD,  Karim ul-Makhdum arrived in Simunul island from Malacca, again, with Arab traders. Apart from being a scholar, he is a trader and believed to be a Sufi missionary whose origin is from Mecca. He preached Islam in the area, and was thus accepted by the core Muslim community. He was the second person who preached Islam in the area, since Tuan Mashā′ikha. To facilitate easy conversion of nonbelievers, he established a mosque in Tubig-Indagan, Simunul, which became the first Islamic temple to be constructed in the area, as well as in the Philippines. This was later known as Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque. He died in Sulu, though the exact location of his grave is unknown. In Buansa, he was known as Tuan Sharif Awliyā. On his alleged grave in Bud Agad, Jolo, an inscription was written as "Mohadum Aminullah Al-Nikad". In Lugus, he is referred to Abdurrahman. In Sibutu, he is known to as his name.
The different of beliefs on his grave locations is due to the fact that Karim ul-Makhdum travelled to several islands in Sulu Sea to preach Islam. In many places in the archipelago, he was beloved. It is said that the people of Tapul built a mosque honoring him and that they claim descent from Karim ul-Makhdum. Thus, the success of Karim ul-Makhdum of spreading Islam in Sulu threw a new light in Islamic history in the Philippines. The customs, beliefs and political laws of the people were changed and customized to adopt the Islamic tradition.

Spanish and British annexations

In the 18th century, Sulu's dominion covered most of northeastern part of Borneo. However areas like Tempasuk and Abai had never really shown much allegiance to its earlier ruler, Brunei, subsequently similar treatment was given to Sulu. Dalrymple who made a treaty of allegiance in 1761 with Sulu, had to make a similar agreement with the rulers of Tempasuk and Abai on the north Borneo coast in 1762.

The territory ceded to Sulu by Brunei initially stretched south to Tapean Durian (now Tanjong Mangkalihat) (another source mentioned the southern most boundary is at Dumaring), near the Straits of Macassar (now Kalimantan). However by 1800–1850, these area had been effectively controlled by theSultanate of Bulungan in Kalimantan, reducing the boundary of Sulu to a cape named Batu Tinagat and Tawau River.
In 1848 and 1851, the Spanish launched attacks on Balangingi and Jolo respectively. A peace treaty was signed on 30 April 1851 in which the sultan could only regain its capital if Sulu and its dependencies became a part of the Philippine Islands under the sovereignty of Spain. There were different understandings of this treaty, in which although the Spanish interpreted it as the sultan accepted Spanish sovereignty, the sultan took it as a friendly treaty amongst equals. International Court of Justice in 2003 nevertheless observes that, undisputedly, the Sultan of Sulu relinquished the sovereign rights over all his possessions in favour of Spain, based on Bases of Peace and Capitulation signed by Sultan of Sulu and Spain in Jolo on the 22 July 1878.
On 22 January 1878, an agreement was signed between the Sultanate of Sulu and British commercial syndicate (Alfred Dent and Baron von Overback), which stipulated that North Borneo was either ceded or leased (depending on translation used) to the British syndicate in return for payment of 5000 Malayan Dollar per year.

Sulu version hereby lease of our own freewill and satisfaction to...all the territories and lands being tributary to [us] together with their heirs, associates, successors and assigns forever and until the end of time, all rights and powers which we possess over all territories and lads tributary to us on the mainland of the Island of Borneo, commencing from the Pandassan River on the west coast to Maludu Bay, and extending along the whole east coast as far as Sibuco River on the south,..., and all the other territories and states to the southward thereof bordering on Darvel Bay and as far as the Sibuco River, ... nautical miles] of the coast."

Standoff at Lahad Datu, Sabah
Initiation of the standoff

Heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu felt excluded by the terms of the framework of a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as announced on 7 October 2012 by Philippine president Benigno Aquino III. In response, Jamalul Kiram III, claiming to be the legitimate heir to the throne of Sulu, decreed on 11 November 2012 that a civilian and military contingent should assert his territorial rights in North Borneo. He appointed his brother and Raja Muda ("heir apparent" or "crown prince"), Agbimuddin Kiram, to lead the group.

Months later on 11 February 2013, Agbimuddin Kiram and at least 101 followers arrived in the village of Tanduo, located near Tungku in Lahad Datu District, Sabah from neighboring Simunul island, Tawi-Tawi of southern Philippines. Around eighty people fled from 15 homes in Tanduo.

Development of standoff

Malaysian police blockaded roads leading from Lahad Datu through palm oil plantations to the remote village of Tanduo, where the armed group is encircled. Malaysian police patrol boats were also patrolling nearby waters. Filipino security agencies also blocked off entry from southern Philippines.

The Philippines also deployed six naval ships to the seas of Sulu and Tawi Tawi to help stabilize the situation. An additional Philippine naval ship was sent to Malaysian waters off Lahad Datu to provide humanitarian assistance.


 Kiram remained defiant, despite a warning of arrest, said his men would not go back home “until an arrangement has been done by our officials and the president, and if that will be arranged accordingly with a written agreement signed by the parties concerned.” He shared that in his last conversation with Agbimuddin over the phone, his brother told him that their followers were firm in their decision to stay in Sabah even though they have little access to food as a result of the food blockade ordered by the Malaysian government.

The 74-year-old sultan said he was ready to be jailed if the Philippine government filed a case against him and members of his clan, citing his old age. He said he cannot understand what his violation against the Constitution is, saying he has always respected it and that "coming home to their homeland" is not a crime. Kiram also asked Malaysia to "sit down in a square table and to diplomatically settle the issue on the claim" stressing the need to "come up with a win-win solution." He reiterated that he and his men “will not initiate the violence… But are prepared to defend our lives and aspirations” and that the Sabah issue “can be peacefully settled without threat, but in a diplomatic way.”

Sitti Jacel, the daughter of Kiram, said her father's followers were not in Lahad Datu in order to wage war but to reside peacefully on what they call their ancestral territory. She added that they would not leave unless they are given a "concrete solution." She also expressed disappointment at the apparent lack of support from the Philippine government, adding that Manila needs to balance diplomatic relations and the interests of its constituents.

Malaysian Deputy Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar advised the public not to be worried, and assured that the standoff would be resolved as soon as possible. He added that the incident was being handled as a national security issue. He also declined to comment on whether there are ongoing negotiations with the group of Kiram.

Military operations

1 March skirmish

At around 10:15 am on 1 March 2013, three days after Malaysia's extended deadline for the group to leave Lahad Datu, a confrontation occurred between the sultanate's forces and the Malaysian police, with shots exchanged. According to Abraham Idjirani, Kiram's spokesperson, 10 members of their army were killed with four more injured as a result of the skirmish.[28] There were also two casualties from the Malaysian police. The owner of the house where Agbimuddin Kiram and his men had stayed was also killed in the shooting incident.

Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein claimed that Kiram's men opened fire and denied that their security forces retaliated.

Initial reports from the Malaysian embassy in the Philippines stated that there were no fatalities in the shooting. Ambassador Mohammad Zamri bin Mohammad Kassim told Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario that the "standoff was over" and that 10 "royal army" members had surrendered to Malaysian authorities after the assault. He added that the group of Kiram at Lahad Datu escaped and ran towards the sea. He said a pursuit for them has ensued.

Idjirani reacted that none of their members were in Malaysian custody after the shooting incident. He also denied that their forces fled to the sea after their clash with the police. He said “the standoff is not over, unless there’s a concrete understanding or agreement that can be reached" between the sultanate and the governments of Malaysia and the Philippines.

Idjirani claimed that Malaysian officials wanted "to cover up the truth" when they claimed that no one was hurt in the incident. He also appealed to the Malaysian government to stop the attack, saying Kiram's men were armed only with bolos and knives and only a few had guns. He claimed that snipers from the Malaysian police were targeting their group. He added that the sultanate is now looking at the possibility of elevating the matter to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He also said that their men had moved to another location to continue their fight and urged Malaysia to hold talks.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib meanwhile said no one from Kiram's followers surrendered to Malaysian authorities. He added that 12 men from Kiram's group were killed when they tried to break out of the security cordon imposed by Malaysian security forces. Hamza claimed that the Filipinos opened fire at the Malaysian police before they were forced to retaliate in self-defence, followed by a gun battle. He said they found various weapons, including the high-powered M16 rifles, pistols and SLR rifles and bullets from the group. Hamza also denied reports from a foreign news agency that the gunmen had given themselves up and escaped to the sea. He said Agbimuddin’s group were still in Tanduo and that the security cordon was being maintained because Malaysia wants the occupation to be resolved peacefully.

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak later confirmed that there were casualties from the shootout. He said he had now given Malaysian security forces a mandate to take "any action" against the group.He added that "there will be no compromise" for the sultanate's forces and that "either they surrender or face the consequences.”

Presence of armed men in Kunak

On 2 March 2013, a group of 10 armed men were spotted near Kunak, a town between Lahad Datu and Semporna, according to Royal Malaysia Police Inspector-General Ismail Omar. He said that three of these men were in military fatigues similar to those being worn by the sultanate's forces.
The Malaysian government began doubling the number of police and army officers, including deploying members of the Royal Malay Regiment, in identified areas where the Filipino armed groups are believed to be present.

Semporna attack

At around 6:30 am on 3 March 2013, armed gunmen believed to be less than 10 in number claiming to be from the Sulu Sultanate ambushed the police during a surveillance operation on a village off the coast of Semporna, Sabah. The Bukit Aman special branch superintendent and four operatives died in the action. As of 9 a.m., it is learnt that the police party remained entrapped in the village surrounded by the attackers. The superintendent in his 40s had led three dozen policemen, from the Semporna District Police Headquarters, had been ordered to carry out an investigation at the village following a tip-off that there was a group of armed men at Kampung Sri Jaya Siminul in Semporna.[37] The operation in Semporna was launched at 4 pm on Saturday following intelligence reports of the existence of a cache of firearms in the village, and that an uprising by certain groups of villagers believed to be of Southern Philippines origin and residing there was in the making.
About three hours into the operation, the policemen were shot while heading towards a house in the village and opened fire in self defence. It is learnt that the superintendent who was the first to be hit by a hail of gunshots fired by hiding gunmen died moments later.  Sabah police commissioner DCP Datuk Hamza Taib had said on Saturday the attack may not be related to the Kampung Tanduo standoff. During the ambush, two armed gunmen were also killed.

It was earlier reported that the intruders had planned to attack Lahad Datu police station and that both Lahad Datu and Tawau Police Special Investigation Divisions had been deployed to the scene.
Reports came out Sunday, that a total of six Malaysian police officers and seven assailants were killed in Semporna. Six of the attackers were fatally shot Saturday night while ambushing Malaysian police while another was beaten to death by villagers after he tried to take a hostage, says Sabah's head of police.

Assault by Malaysian Armed Forces and mopping up operations

On 5 March 2013, Royal Malaysian Air Force fighter jets, reported as F/A-18 and Hawk fighters, bombed Kiram's camp. Continuous explosions were being heard in Lahad Datu as the police and army moved in against the gunmen who were reportedly returning fire. In a Kuala Lumpur rally, Prime Minister Najib said, “We started with air strike by jet fighters of Royal Malaysian Air Forces, followed by mortar strike and as I'm speaking, the army and police forces, along with other members (of the security forces) following behind, are taking action to arrest and destroy the group which has breached the nation's sovereignty.  According to IGP Ismail Omar and other police sources, the army and police have begun mopping-up operations codenamed "Ops Sulu" now "Ops Daulat" (Operation Sovereignty). It is believed that rebel leader Agbimuddin Kiram and several of his followers have managed to escaped the security cordon around Kampung Tanduo. The search for these men by the joint Malaysian poice and army taskforce in the surrounding farmland and FELDA plantations

Reinforcements from the Moro National Liberation Front
The Moro National Liberation Front made an announcement that thousands of members will be heading to Sabah to reinforced the Sultanate of Sulu's forces currently facing the Malaysian Armed Forces.  Many of these MNLF fighters and commanders had received military training and arms from Malaysia during the armed conflict in the Philippines. Former MNLF leader Nur Misuari has admitted that some MNLF members were part of the armed incursion into Sabah.

Protests at Malaysian embassy

Around 100 Filipinos organized a protest in front of the embassy of Malaysia in Makati on 5 March 2013. They called for an end to the violence in Sabah, while some expressed support for the cause of Kiram. At least 50 policemen and a fire truck were deployed in the area. The embassy later suspended its operations as a result of the protest.


Moro, militant groups rally at Malaysian Embassy, call Aquino Pilate

Around 40 Moro and militant groups massed in front of the Malaysian Embassy Tuesday protesting President Aquino’s actions on the Sabah standoff.
“During this Holy Week, demons come out, including Pontius Pilate—in the name of President Aquino—who keeps on blaming others and appears more like the spokesperson of the Malaysian people,” said Antonio Liongson of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance.
“Our countrymen are already at the lion’s mouth, Aquino is pushing them to its throat; they are already at the cliff and he is still pushing them toward the edge,” he said.
Members of Katribu, Migrante and Bayan Muna, among others, expressed their disappointment at the President’s handling of the Sabah issue, calling him in placards held during the hourlong protest “a traitor” to Moros.

Yusuf Ledesma of the Coalition of Supporters for the Sultan of Sulu said Aquino did not just ignore the call of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III for help. “Instead of acting as a knowledge broker, the Aquino (administration) scolded the sultan and castigated him in public,” Ledesma said.
In a statement, Migrante said Aquino “virtually emboldened and gave license to Malaysia to instigate an attack against Filipinos in Sabah.”
“If not for the Philippine government’s passivity and inaction to protect national interest, the Sabah standoff would not have ended in bloodshed,” it said.
Crackdown feared
Migrante feared Malaysia would intensify a crackdown on undocumented Filipinos in Sabah.
In a statement on Tuesday, Harry Roque, director of the Institute of International Legal Studies at the University of the Philippines, denounced Malaysia’s bombing raids on Filipinos in Sabah.
“Under humanitarian rights law, the use of force in police operations should be strictly proportional to the threat posed by the Filipinos in Sabah,” he said.

DFA to probe abuses against Pinoys in Sabah
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The Philippine government on Sunday, March 10 officially condemned the alleged "inhumane treatment" given by Malaysian security forces to Filipinos in Sabah who are not involved in the standoff by supporters of the Sulu sultan.
In a radio interview, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte confirmed that Malacañang has received reports of abuses against Filipinos -- especially those of Tausug origin -- in Sabah.
“We have been receiving these reports from our countrymen who have gone back to different places in the south -- some have fled to Tawi-Tawi, others Zamboanga,” she said.
“This kind of treatment on Filipino citizens is unacceptable, which is why the [Department of Foreign Affairs] will be contacting their Malaysian counterparts to [discuss the problem].”
A Filipina who had to leave Sandakan, Sabah confirmed to Rappler on Friday that Tausugs are being targeted.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that Filipinos are being treated “like animals."
The Tausugs are the dominant
ethnic group of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, where the followers of self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III came from.

Philippines condemns M'sian police abuses
Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippine Palace yesterday condemned the reported abuses suffered by Filipinos at the hands of Malaysian police in the crackdown on followers of the sultan of Sulu in Sabah.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is verifying the report published by the Inquirer yesterday based on the accounts given by Filipinos fleeing violence sparked by the intrusion of the followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III into Sabah.
One refugee, Amira Taradji, spoke of how Malaysian police conducting sweeps of villages in search of the sultan's followers rounded up Filipino men, made them run as fast as they could, and shot them.
One of the men killed in Sandakan was Taradji's brother Jumadil.
Even Filipinos with immigration papers were being rounded up and thrown into jails, Taradji said.
Some who tried to avoid arrest by showing their papers were shot, she said.
Seventy-nine people, including Tausug and Orang Suluk (people who originated from Sulu), were rounded up on Friday in police sweeps of villages to flush out supporters of Jamalul's attempt to retake Sabah from Malaysia.

Sabah Question: The Problem that Won’t Go Away!

by Akram Latip (Notes)
on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 3:34pm

This note look into the historical context of the Sabah Incursion and view it as part of a long series of events that are unfolding through the years. The incident, if not properly addressed by all stakeholders will not end the Sabah Question, it will simply delay it for future reckoning that may prove disastrous for both Malaysia and the Philippines.

In 1967, Operation Merdeka was initiated by late President Ferdinand Marcos. The main objective is to annex Sabah for the Philippines. Legal basis of the operation is the claim of the Sultan of Sulu and his heirs to Sabah. The Sultan’s heirs insist that the resource-rich land still belong to them. They believe that it was simply leased to the British East India Company in 1878 and was illegally transferred by the British in 1963, when it becomes part of the Federation of Malaysia. The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, being citizens of the Philippines, gave then President Marcos the mandate to reclaim Sabah as part of the country.

The standing policy of the Philippines on Sabah is articulated in the Republic Act 5546 of 1968, which provides in Section 2: “The definition of the baselines of the territorial sea of the Philippine Archipelago as provided in this Act is without prejudice to the delineation of the baselines of the territorial sea around the territory of Sabah, situated in North Borneo, over which the Republic of the Philippines has acquired dominion and sovereignty.”

To achieve the objective of the Operation Merdeka, Tausug (Suluk among Malaysians and Tausug among Filipinos literally mean People of the Current) and Sama Muslims (Moros)were recruited and trained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Corregidor Island for covert operation and specialized training. Number of recruits differs among sources from 60 according to Philippine Government sources to more than 200 according to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Their order is to sabotage military installations and key infrastructures in Sabah for the subsequent invasion of the Philippines. At first, the recruits were unaware of their true mission. When they realize that their order is to infiltrate Sabah and fight fellow Muslims, they become mutinous. This prompted their military handlers to execute them and cover up the entire operation. Against all odds one of the recruit, named Jibin Arula, survive to recount what happened.

As fate would have it, the late Philippine senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. (father of the current President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III) exposed Operation Merdeka and the killing of recruits. Although, the late senator condemned the massacre he never denounce the historical claim of the Sultanate of Sulu on Sabah. The incident generally referred to as the Jabidah Massacre has wide ranging implications. Now President Benigno Aquino III, is condemning the armed incursion of the followers of the Sultan of Sulu.

On the Malaysian side, it created an impression that they can count on Moros in case of conflict with the Philippines. That Moros are willing to disobey orders and risk being killed just to avoid fighting in Malaysia. Second, the Malaysia realized that their best lines of defence against the Philippine annexation of Sabah are the Moros. Thus, training and equipping them to fight for separate homeland becomes an implied state’s policy. In 1969, Tuan Mustapha, a Tausug decent and chief minister of Sabah at that time, facilitate the military training of Moros. With the help of Libya, who provided the financial assistance and military equipment, 90 Moros were trained in Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia. These Malaysian trained Moros called the “Top 90” later become the core of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Third, annexation of Sabah is a distant possibility as long as the Moros will not cooperate with the Philippine Government. This thinking is reflected in the deployment of military bases within Malaysia. Most military personnel and bases are stationed in the peninsular region and Sarawak. While almost negligible numbers are stationed in Sabah, reflecting the lack of threat coming from the area. These beliefs also created a porous border between Sabah and northern islands of the Philippines like Tawi-tawi and Sulu.

On the Philippine side, it crystallized the long simmering discontent among the Muslims in Mindanao (or Moros as they call themselves) into a secessionist movement. The Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) was organized in 1968 by Datu Udtog Matalam demanding the outright secession of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan regions from the Philippine control. Leaders of MIM subsequently formed Moro National Liberation Front in 1969 – the military wing of the secessionist movement headed by Nur Misuari. Then in 1977 due to ideological difference the late Hashim Salamat formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) a break-away group from the MNLF. The ensuing conflict between the secessionist groups and the Philippine Government cost the lives of more than 100,000 people and massive destruction to the economy and development outcomes, not only of among conflict areas but in the whole of the Mindanao as well. It also tied the meagre resources of the Philippines into fighting the secessionist groups. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are unable to modernize since most of the military budget was used in containing and fighting the secessionist threat. As a result, the military superiority of the AFP in the late 1960s over the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) was no longer the case these days. By far, the MAF is more advance and modern than the AFP.

In a way, Malaysia manages to achieve all its objective of neutralizing the threat of Sabah annexation and ensure the AFP is weakened and will not pose considerable threat in the event of future conflict – all of it for simply supporting the Moro secessionist movements from 1968 to 1972.

However, the cozy position of Malaysia was shaken on 12 February 2013, when a group numbering around 300 claiming to be the Royal Sulu Sultanate Army lands in Lahad Datu village in Sabah, declaring they will not leave Sabah because it is their own homeland.

What had changed during the last 46 years? What pushed the Sultan of Sulu to launch an armed incursion against Sabah? Who are behind the scenes? And what is the ultimate implication of the Sabah incursion?

Although various agreement and treaties are signed by stakeholders on Sabah; the claim of the heir of the Sultan of Sulu and, therefore, by the Philippine remain open. The issue of Sabah was never definitively and formally resolve.

According to the Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, the heir of the Sultan of Sulu responsible for sending contingent to occupy Lahad Datu, his men are returning to their homeland and that he also wants to open negotiation with the Malaysian Government for the increase of rent payment for Sabah. The Malaysian Embassy in the Philippines is still paying nominal rent of 6,300 ringgit (US$1,500) to the heir of the Sultan – a payment that remain unchanged for more than a century.

However, speculation with regards to the timing of the Sabah incursion points to some powerful individuals backing the Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. Allies of ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo like Norberto Gonzales, former National Security Adviser and good friend of the Sultan, were suspected by the Aquino Administration to have played a role. Nur Misuari, the MNLF chief, is also tagged as one of the conspirators in the move to occupy Lahad Datu. Both men vehemently deny any involvement in the incursion. Nevertheless, they profess support the claim of the Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. Opposition party within Malaysia was also accused as conspirators in the Sabah incursion. Likewise, they also deny any involvement.

Most opinion points to preventing the final peace agreement between the MILF and the Philippine Government that are currently being completed in Kuala Lumpur as the main target of the Sabah incursion while some commentators argue that influencing the outcome of the general elections in both countries (May 2013 in the Philippine and June 2013 in Malaysia) as the objective of the incursion.

In the Philippine, Sabah incursion has popular support affecting that can affect the outcome of midterm election. This made the Aquino Administration do a balancing act of appeasing that Malaysian and at the same time not offending the Filipino voters. While in Malaysia the strong handed approach of Prime Minister Najib Razak in dealing with the Sabah incursion are met with popular support. The incident in Sabah played perfectly into the UMNO to gain more support in Sabah and Sarawak affecting the overall results of the general election.

Upon the call of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to stop hostilities in Sabah, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III declared unilateral ceasefire and ask Prime Minister Najib to reciprocate. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Najib rejects the call and continues the military offensive against the men of the Sultan. As of 12 March 2013, the death toll in the fighting stands at 62 killed (54 sultanate followers and 8 Malaysian policemen). Talk for negotiated pull out of the Sultan’s followers is now underway.

Undeniably, the biggest losers in Sabah incursions are the tens thousands of Filipino living in the territory and the hundreds of thousands that depend on their livelihood in the porous borders, where the free flow of goods and labor are tolerated by both countries. The Sabah incursion will result to tighter border control and economic exclusion of Filipino living in Sabah. Many Filipinos living in Sabah are now being repatriated into the Philippines.

Just like the Jabidah Massacre that becomes the battle cry for secessionist movement in Mindanao, the Sabah incursion is now being used by certain quarters as a turning point: a point where the front have switched side where the Moros are no longer the first line of defence against Philippine annexation of Sabah. Some quarters in the Philippines are now referring to the incidence as Sabah Massacre. They believe that the “rightful” landlords of Sabah are being victimized by the “tenant.”

The Sabah incursion cannot be simply dismissed as another armed incursion into Malaysia. Like the Jabidah Massacre it may serve as catalyst for future conflict. Malaysia will soon realize this change among the Moros and need to reposition its armed forces into Sabah as well as reassess its policy in dealing with the Sabah question.

At this point in time, the Malaysian Government is in the position of strength to negotiate for the peaceful and definitive solution of the Sabah question. The Aquino Administration is not keen on pursuing the Sabah claim and it is beholden to the Malaysian for brokering the peace deals with the MILF.

With the inevitable conclusion of the peace deal between the Government of the Philippine and the MILF, formally ending the secessionist movement in Mindanao, Malaysia can no longer rely on the Moros to provide the same buffer zone against Philippine annexation of Sabah – a buffer zone that the Moros freely and unwittingly provided since the late 1960s.

All stakeholders including the various heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, the Malaysian Government and the Republic of the Philippine have to sit down and resolve the claim once and for all. They cannot simply sweep the Sabah incursion under the rug and forget about it. Failing to settle the Sabah issue will create a mirage of peace and security that is waiting to be shattered.

In the future, if a more belligerent president in the Philippines emerges that is willing to reclaim Sabah by all means necessary, just like the late Ferdinand Marcos; it could spell disaster for both countries. It is therefore imperative that the Sabah question is finally put to rest by formally and peacefully resolving it in all legal means possible.

Future security of Sabah depends on how the governments of Malaysia and the Philippines will deal with the aftermath of Sabah incursion. They have to take the bull by the horn and address it now! Failing to do so, would mean another armed incursion into Sabah waiting to happen. It will simply be a matter of time before it does – AGAIN!!!


ARMM documenting abuses on Filipinos in Sabah       
COTABATO City, Philippines – The Regional Human Rights Commission (RCHC) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has started documenting complaints of abuses by Filipino evacuees from Sabah.

RCHC chief Laisa Alamia said on Friday that her office is now preparing the sworn statements by evacuees that would corroborate earlier allegations of brutality by Malaysian authorities.
Local officials in Tawi-Tawi said dozens of evacuees have told them different stories of how they were maltreated and even forced to leave their homes even if they have documents to show that they are legally working in Sabah.

Alamia said they also received reports that the residence papers of some Filipinos, who have evacuated to Tawi-Tawi, were confiscated by Malaysian authorities before they left Sabah.
Alamia, meanwhile, called for the immediate intervention of international human rights organizations to help look into the alleged abuses being committed by Malaysian security forces.
The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has an office which covers the ARMM provinces, she said.

We are now investigating on this. Documentations are being done now,” Alamia said.
About 2,000 evacuees from Sabah have entered the ARMM’s adjoining Tawi-Tawi and Sulu provinces after hostilities in Lahad Datu between followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysian security forces erupted two weeks ago.
The Tawi-Tawi provincial government and the office of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman have a pool of relief workers attending to the needs of the evacuees, who arrived in Tawi-Tawi on board small vessels
The hostilities in Sabah have virtually stopped the flow of commerce and trade between the island’s trading ports and the municipalities in Tawi-Tawi and some areas in Sulu.
About 80 percent of consumer goods peddled in stores in Tawi-Tawi, including rice and petroleum products, come from Sabah.

Humanitarian and welfare desks

Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman announced on Thursday that the government has set up humanitarian and welfare desks in Sabah to attend to the needs of Filipinos there.

She also said that two Rapid Response Teams (RRT1 and RRT2) were deployed in different areas in Sabah where there are large concentration of Filipinos.

Soliman said that RRT1 visited the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) Plantation in Sabah and Sarawak that currently employees 451 Filipinos with some 350 dependents doing mostly field and maintenance work.

She said that the RRT1 reported that the FELDA management has assured the safety and continued employment of Filipinos in the company.

Soliman added that there are four evacuation centers established inside the FELDA plantations with 1,464 total evacuees broken down as follows: Cenderawasih Gym-507; Embara Budi-468; Fajar Harapan-208; and Gemalapura-281.

She said that most of the evacuees are Filipinos but there are Indonesians, Timorese and local villagers as well.

“There are no Filipino FELDA workers in the evacuation centers,” Soliman said.

The RRT1 also visited Kampung Batu-Batu, where many villagers expressed their intent to return to the Philippines.

Soliman said that many of these villagers are undocumented and mostly are natives of Tawi-Tawi.


IPs group condemns human rights abuses in Sabah

KATRIBU Partylist strongly condemned the human rights violations inflicted by the Malaysian armed forces on Filipinos in Lahad Datu, Sabah. The violent attacks and the indiscriminate crackdown of the followers of the Sultanate of Sulu has cost the lives of at least 70 people, including civilians. Human rights violations committed against Filipinos in Sabah is also on the rise.
The Philippine government headed by President Aquino is likewise responsible and condemnable for the eruption of violence in Lahad Datu. President Aquino tacitly spurred and condoned the Malaysian armed forces to violently suppress the assertion of Filipino citizens claim on Sabah, the group said.
Aquino has fully practically acceded the Philippines’ rightful and legitimate claim to Sabah. And the repression and violence carried out by Malaysian forces against Filipinos stand unencumbered by the Philippine government. These actions are tantamount to betrayal of the interests and welfare of the Filipino people, from whom the government derives its mandate.
The Philippine government and its agencies are slow and weak to condemn the atrocities committed against its people. Aquino’s belated condemnation of the human rights violations done against its constituents is rendered hollow and hypocritical, following his implicit pronouncements of abandon of the fate of Sultanate and of other Filipinos living in Sabah, the group said.
President Aquino should be held responsible responsible for the grave human rights violations committed by the Malaysian forces against Filipinos, the group said.
At the onset, Aquino did not call for a peaceful resolution of the standoff in Sabah. He brushed off the broad public clamor for the Philippine government to engage in talks with the Malaysian government. He also shunned the call to urge the United Nations to intervene in the conflict. Aquino displayed vain arrogance in not addressing the conflict head on and effectively paved the way for the all-out attacks of the Malaysian armed forces against the miniscule armed followers of the Sultanate, the group said.
Aquino fully exhibited his disinterest and disregard of the struggle of the Moro people for their rights to ancestral territories and to self-determination in this crisis. This is the same attitude he has for the indigenous peoples’ assertion for their rights. Instead of recognizing the legitimate assertion for ancestral land and to self-determination, Aquino dismissed the issue trivially as a “conspiracy” instigated by his political enemies.
“Aquino’s refusal to support the Tausug peoples’ rightful claim to Sabah perpetuates the non-recognition and denial of the national minorities’ struggle for their ancestral land rights,” the group said.
Katribu said the Sabah question is not only a struggle of the Moro people for their rights to ancestral land, it is also an issue of upholding our national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Aquino government government portrayed an apparent inability to protect and assert our sovereignty in this crisis, and has also proved itself unreliable in the protection of its constituents. At the face of these ineptitudes, the Filipino people is challenged to defend and fight for the integrity of our territories and the welfare of our people.

Malaysia facing policy 'blowback'


Sultanate of Sulu

The Philippine Claim over Sabah: Legal and Historical Bases (1st Revision)

The Philippine Claim to North Borneo: A Statement of Facts.

North Borneo Philippines
Filipino sultan’s quest sparks crisis in Malaysia
Malaysia attacks Filipinos to end Sabah siege
Misuari warns Aquino of ‘total chaos’


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The Mindanao Conflict and the Jabidah Massacre

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