Malaysia gives Sulu Sultanate’s army 48 more hours to leave Sabah—report
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
4:05 pm | Sunday, February 24th, 2013
Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram talks to reporters during a news conference in Alabang, south of Manila, Philippines on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. His followers who crossed to the Malaysian state of Sabah this month will not leave and are reclaiming the area as their ancestral territory, the sultan said Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, amid a tense standoff. AP FILE PHOTO
MANILA, Philippines—A Malaysian online newspaper reported on Sunday that the Malaysian government has given a 48-hour extension for the royal army of the Sultanate of Sulu to leave Sabah.
“The clock is ticking away for the Sulu armed group holed up at the Tanduo village as the Sunday deadline draws near with no sign of them giving up peacefully,” the Star reported on its website http://thestar.com.my/news.
The report was posted at 12:10 p.m. Sunday.
“The earlier Friday deadline was extended by 48-hours after the Philippines government requested for a four-day extension till Tuesday on the grounds that Manila was trying to persuade the Sulu group to give up their stand,” the report said.
The report prompted a senior Philippine diplomat to lament the “irresponsibility and recklessness” of the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu in the dispatch of a group of an estimated 180 Muslim-Filipinos to Lahad Datu, with some 30 of them armed.
The diplomat requested anonymity as only the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was authorized to release statements at this point.
For the diplomat, the stubborn order of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III for his brother and their followers to stand down in Sabah showed their family’s “irresponsibility and lack of concern for civilian lives.”
The diplomat noted that the Kirams sent “women and unarmed civilians to Lahad Datu.”
“If there is a forced deportation, have they thought of what will happen to the civilians, some of whom joined up after being promised lands in Sabah?” the diplomat said.
The diplomat also said that the group’s claim of having peaceful objectives was “illogical and irrational,” given the fact they were escorted by armed men and they intruded into a neighboring country.
“If there is bloodshed, it would be on the Kiram’s hands and not on government’s,” the diplomat said.
“With their quixotic and reckless move, they have placed at risk not only the Mindanao peace process but also the overall peace and security situation in Mindanao, which all Filipinos have worked and hoped for and Filipino-Muslims have long deserved,” the diplomat added.
Kiram had said that his brother and their royal army would remain in Lahad Datu. In a press conference Friday, Kiram’s wife, Princess Fatima Cecilia Kiram, said that their family would like to negotiate the Sabah claim with Malaysia and settle the dispute before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the United Nations.
Sabah has once again become front-page material because of the move of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu to enforce their claim to a portion of the territory. It may be good to understand what the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu are claiming. As I see it, they are not claiming political sovereignty over the territory. Sulu, not being a sovereign state itself, cannot be claiming sovereign powers over Sabah. What is being claimed is proprietary right. They claim to be the owners and lessors of the property with Malaysia as lessee-successor to a British company.
The Philippine government itself sees the current problem merely as proprietary and not involving sovereignty. But is there a sovereignty problem? There is, but it has been dormant for some time now and there is no indication that the current administration wishes to resuscitate it. After all, we are concerned about preserving peace among the Asean nations. Moreover, we have accepted the friendly cooperation of Malaysia in solving the Bangsamoro problem. But a look at the sovereignty issue involved in the Sabah problem may be useful.
Part of the problem is permanently recognized by the Constitution. It is not essential that a constitution should have a delimitation of a state’s national territory. After all a constitution is domestic law and it is not binding on other nations. But our Constitution has an article on national territory for a very special reason. And the Sabah issue is now also there.
In 1935, there was a compelling reason for a careful delineation of Philippine territory in the Constitution. The Constitutional Convention then was aware that it was formulating a Constitution for a government that would not yet be politically independent of the United States; and there was, at that time, the fear that the United States would allow the dismemberment of the nation. The desire of the convention was to tie the hands of the United States and prevent America from slicing off any portion of Philippine territory. Tying American hands was possible because the Tydings-McDuffie Law, which authorized the drafting of the Constitution, required that the work of the Convention be submitted to the United States government for its acceptance. Thus, acceptance of the Constitution by the United States would have been acceptance of the territorial claims of the Philippines. As Delegate Vicente Singson-Encarnacion put it: “Debemos poner aqui lo que es necessario para nosotros que nos consideramos como una cosa necessaria, a fin de que despues no se conviertan algunas de nuestras islas en ‘yoyo’ o sea, que Estados Unidos retire lo que hoy de buena gana nos concede.”
In other words, there was a recognition that a constitution is not an international law but only a municipal law and, as such, binding only on the nation promulgating it. No provision in a constitution binds any other nation. But for reasons peculiar to the Philippines then, the Constitutional Convention also wanted to convert the 1935 Constitution into an international agreement binding on the United States by obtaining that nation’s acceptance of the provision on national territory. And that is what happened.
When the 1971 Constitutional Convention was formulating the constitution which was to become the 1973 Constitution, the delegates debated on whether to have an article on national territory at all. You can look at the Feb. 14 and Feb. 15, 1972, records for some entertainment. Some of the speeches are dead serious, others comic, and most of them utterly forgettable. At any rate the convention decided to adopt an article on national territory. After fumigating the 1935 version of overt colonial odor, the convention added to the 1935 claim two international challenges: one made the catch-all claim of “all other territories belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title,” and the other asserted Philippine acceptance of the “archipelagic principle.”
The adoption of the “archipelagic principle” has not created waves; but the catch-all claim of territories “belonging to the Philippines by historic right or legal title” irritated Malaysia which saw the phrase as the assertion of Philippine claim over Sabah. As indeed it was. And it became an obstacle to smooth relations with this Asean neighbor.
Once again, in the 1987 Constitutional Commission, there was debate on whether to drop the entire article on national territory. In the end, the decision was to keep it. Indeed, it would have been awkward to drop it if, after carefully enshrining it in earlier constitutions, it would be abandoned now. The debate then shifted to the claim over Sabah.
The Sabah debate ended with a softened statement staking its claim in the following language: “all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction.” The original phrase had said “exercises sovereignty or jurisdiction.” “Exercises” yielded to “has” on the argument that a state could “have” jurisdiction over an area where another state is “exercising” jurisdiction—which Malaysia was doing over Sabah. The language fitted the dormant but still not abandoned claim to Sabah.
It is clear that even with the recent movements in Sabah, the current administration is not inclined to awaken the dormant claim. I agree. Awakening it would serve no useful purpose. We are having enough problem dealing with China’s territorial claims.
I can only hope that by this time the followers of Jamalul Kiram have withdrawn peacefully from Tanduao in Sabah. Theirs is a no-win situation. They can neither win a physical nor moral victory by remaining there. They can neither gain territory nor sympathy by remaining there.
Their armed incursion is counterproductive. At the very least, as nearly every observer has pointed out, their timing sucks. The Philippine government stands on the threshold of forging one of the most vital agreements in history, one that could end the centuries-long war between government and the Muslim rebels of Mindanao. Indeed, one that could finally put an end to the latter’s secessionist stirrings, persuading them to take the giant leap, or paradigm shift, of seeing themselves as part of the Philippine polity, albeit with a wide latitude for self-governance. You would imagine everyone would exert themselves to make this dream come true.
This one does not. The incursion into Sabah undercuts it, undermines it, subverts it. Crucial to clinching the peace agreement—one incidentally that still has quite a long way to go; government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are merely at the stage of discussing the shape and form and size of the Bangsamoro entity—is the help of Malaysia in it. It was Malaysia that brokered it, it was Malaysia that hosted the preliminary talks, it was Malaysia that persuaded the MILF to see the light. And it is Malaysia that Kiram’s group is pissing off.
It’s enough to give credence to speculation that the group was goaded and possibly funded into doing it by groups opposed to the peace agreement, not least the Moro National Liberation Front. But even if it did not, it puts a dampening effect on relations between the Philippine and Malaysian governments, if not indeed a barrier between them. That cannot augur well for the agreement. Nothing can be more badly timed.
Just as well, it undercuts, undermines and subverts the Philippine position in its territorial conflict with China. It makes us out, and not China, to be given to expansionism, to be a little addled about what is ours and what is not, and perfectly willing to indulge in aggressive and preposterous adventures to claim what we delude ourselves to be ours. At least it opens us to that charge, and various Chinese quarters have been quick to jump at that opening. Why shouldn’t they? Again, nothing can be more contretemps.
At the very most, the substance doesn’t make things better.
First off, Kiram’s claim is based on a 19th-century colonial document that says North Borneo belongs to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu. Colonial documents are always tricky stuff. Not least because they tend to acquire all sorts of legal encrustations over the centuries, making resolutions the hardest thing in the world. A legal axiom says that possession is nine-tenths of the law. Not even Ferdinand Marcos, with his propensity to supplement legal measures with thuggish ones, managed to get far in laying a claim to Sabah. Quite incidentally, that legal axiom, possession is nine-tenths of the law, is the bedrock of our claim to the Kalayaan Islands: they have “always been ours” for as long as we can remember. Why should we want to undermine it?
More than that, you base a legal claim on colonial documents, you recognize, acknowledge, uphold the legal and moral validity of colonialism itself. What in fact is colonialism? However it is justified, it is the naked seizure, grabbing and annexation of territory by the strong from the weak. I’ve always been leery of claims based on colonial documents on that ground. I’ve always thought the better tack, particularly in these postcolonial times, when hindsight allows us 20-20 vision, is to condemn the arrangements it made as being founded on a crime.
Whence, for example, came the moral and legal right of Spain to sell the Philippines to the United States for $20 million? Particularly when it was facing a full-blown revolution that was on the cusp of victory? Did that sale naturally make the Philippines an American property? Resting your claim on a colonial document is not unlike insisting on your right to a stolen good that a thief has fenced because you bought it in good faith.
Second off, which is the irony of it, the claim to Sabah is not being made on behalf of the Philippine government, it is being made on behalf of the Sultan of Sulu. Those who clamor loudly that the Philippine government should revive its claim to Sabah in light of Kiram’s initiative should be mindful of this. The fact that the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu are invoking an agreement with Britain shows they are doing so not as private property owners but as a very public one—as a political entity no less. You do not make an agreement or treaty with a private individual or group, you make it with a nation or political group. The armed incursion into Sabah doesn’t just force the Malaysian government to recognize the Sultan of Sulu’s presumed property rights, it forces the Philippine government to recognize the presumed existence of the Sultanate of Sulu.
But of course the Philippine government can’t possibly support this adventurism, if for no other reason than this. At a time when we’ve just succeeded in persuading the Muslims in Mindanao to give up secessionism and think of integration, we want to complicate matters by creating a new and separate “government”?
And finally, the inhabitants of Sabah have regarded themselves as Malaysians for as long as they can remember. The question isn’t even if they would rather become Filipinos instead after all this time, which defies logic. The question is if they would rather become subjects of the Sultan of Sulu, which defies sanity.
In what appeared to be an impromptu interview, President Aquino last Thursday spoke of his apprehensions over the tense situation that has developed in the wake of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s decision to send his “royal army” to reclaim Sabah as part of the Sulu “homeland.” Asked about his position on the country’s dormant claim to sovereignty over Sabah, the President deftly avoided making any explicit statement on the issue, saying that his Cabinet was still compiling the data and studying the documents.
He admitted that he found the Sabah question confusing. “Everybody was signing a document in his native language. And you wonder how many of them understood what was written in the other copy. Now, I am not an expert. I have tasked the experts to study all of this and to find out precisely where we stand.”
In the course of this free-wheeling interview, the President posed a question that carried broad implications. I’m quoting from the interview as reported by the Inquirer. “If we agree that the Sultan of Sulu owns Sabah, does that also mean that they own Sulu? If we (the sultanate) own Sulu, can we (the sultanate) suddenly say we are separate from the Philippines?” The President’s question touches on the very core issues underpinning the claim to a Bangsamoro homeland.
Like the other royal families of Sulu, the Kiram heirs most likely still own huge tracts of land in Sulu. Much communal land was privately titled during the American period. Still, one can assume that a big portion of the land in these parts belongs to the ancestral domain of the people of Sulu and remains communal. I am not aware that any of the royal families has any pending private claim to the entire island. Ownership is not the main issue in Muslim Mindanao.
It is the question of sovereignty over Sulu (and by extension, the rest of Muslim Mindanao) that has preoccupied generations of the Moro people. This is what they have fought for over the centuries. All around them, they have seen how neighboring islands flourished under colonial rule, and how their own fierce struggle to stay free isolated them from the major currents of modern development. Despite this, they have persisted in their quixotic quest to govern themselves.
Compared to the rest of us, the Moros were better equipped politically and culturally to resist colonial subjugation and wage war against foreign invaders. The sultanates were effective structures of rule in their time, and the spread of Islam in Mindanao well before the arrival of Spain had given its inhabitants a unifying and coherent way of life. On this basis, they fought Spain, they fought the United States, and they have continued to fight the Philippine government.
It is fascinating that P-Noy brought up the question of historic documents becoming objects of contestation. Something is indeed always lost (or added) in translation. He was referring to the 1878 agreement on Sabah between the Sultan of Sulu and the British North Borneo Co. But he could have been describing the US misreading of the 1899 Bates Treaty, which formed the basis of American rule over Mindanao until 1915.
The Bates Treaty, says the writer Saul Hofileña Jr. in his book “Under the Stacks,” led to the enactment of laws that caused the distribution of Moro ancestral lands to Christians and Americans. These actions sparked a war whose aftereffects continue to be felt until today. Among the most crucial in changing the political and social landscape of Mindanao, according to Hofileña, are the following: Public Land Act No. 718 which virtually erased land grants given to the traditional leaders of indigenous communities, a mining law passed in 1903 which opened up all public lands to exploration by Americans, the Cadastral Act of 1907 which ordered the survey of public lands for titling purposes, the 1912 resettlement of landless peasants from Luzon and the Visayas, and Acts No. 2254 and 2280 of the Philippine Commission which authorized the establishment of agricultural colonies in Mindanao.
All such actions drew their authority from Article I of the Bates Treaty. The Americans insisted that the article clearly stated: “The Sovereignty of the United States over the whole archipelago of Jolo and its dependencies is declared and acknowledged.” But this provision did not exist in the vernacular version bearing the signature of the Sultan. A subsequent translation of the Sulu text commissioned by Director F.W. Carpenter of the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes rendered Article I thus: “The Land of Sulu and its Islands are under the protection of the American Government.” No mention of American sovereignty. Under the terms of this treaty, Sulu was recognized as a self-governing entity under the protectorate of America. It was only on March 22, 1915, under the Carpenter Agreement, that the Sultan explicitly ceded “sovereignty over the Philippine portion of the Sultanate of Sulu in favor of the United States Government.” But, by then, so much had already happened that was irreversible.
American sovereignty over Muslim Mindanao later passed on to an independent Philippine Republic. But it is important to bear in mind that Spain and America were always fully cognizant of the particularities of Muslim Mindanao. After ceding the Philippines to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, Spain made a move to return Jolo to the Sultan of Sulu, leaving the Americans to negotiate their own treaty. This prompted the US colonial authorities to propose the Bates Treaty. But, even as they asserted full sovereignty in 1915, the Americans thought it proper to deal with Muslim Mindanao as a separate Moro province.
DIGOS CITY—The diplomatic and security crisis created by Jamalul Kiram III’s sending a group of armed followers to Sabah to claim the land has revived an age-old question here: Who is the real sultan of Sulu?
Since the crisis started nearly three weeks ago, two more members of the Kiram clan, both claiming to be the 35th sultan of Sulu, have emerged, airing different views on the standoff in Sabah.
Despite their conflicting claims to the title, which Jamalul insists is his, Fuad Kiram and Muedzul Lail Tan Kiram agree with their cousin that Sabah belongs to the Sulu sultanate.
The sultanate was once one of the most powerful monarchies in the world, with warriors feared for their swordsmanship.
Until the 19th century, the sultanate’s territory stretched from Sulu in southern Philippines to North Borneo in the northern margin of the South Pacific.
But the sun has set on the sultanate, as the colonial powers retreated home with the arrival of modern times.
North Borneo passed on to Malaysia after that country gained independence from Britain, though the Malaysians continued to recognize the Sulu sultanate’s ownership of the territory now known as Sabah.
Malaysia pays a token sum of 5,300 ringgit (P77,000) a year to the Sulu sultanate as lease on Sabah. There are reports in Manila that the paltry amount may be one of the reasons for Jamalul’s sending the “Royal Security Forces to the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” to Sabah on Feb. 9 to occupy the territory.
“Our official policy is the return of Sabah to all of us the nine heirs, including the people,” said Fuad, a son of Sultan Esmail Kiram I (1950-1974) who claims his title is recognized by the council of elders of Sulu.
But unlike Jamalul, he said, he wants the retaking of Sabah done “by peaceful means and by peaceful coexistence with others.”
Recognized by Marcos
Muedzul, who claims he is the 35th sultan of Sulu because former President Ferdinand Marcos recognized his father, Sultan Ampun Mohammad Mahakuttah Kiram (1974-1986), said that contrary to being a protector of the people of Sulu, Jamalul put the lives of not only his armed followers but also those of the women and children with them in danger by sending them to Sabah.
If Jamalul had achieved anything with the adventure, it was to make the world know that he was the sultan of Sulu, Muedzul said in a report published by a Malaysian newspaper on Sunday.
“They want to assure the people that they are with the legitimate sultan, but the fact is that they are not, because there is only one sultan of Sulu and that is me,” Muedzul said.
Other Malaysian newspapers quoted Muedzul as saying in a radio interview that Jamalul’s sending armed followers to Sabah was “a decision that would never emanate from a wise man.”
Not a good idea
“He is against the way the situation is being handled, because going into another country’s territory with people [who are] armed, we don’t think it is a good idea,” one Malaysian newspaper quoted Andres Lindholm, Muedzul’s secretary, as saying.
So who’s the real sultan of Sulu?
Fuad says he is; Muedzul says he is.
But it is Jamalul who commands the respect and obedience of the people of Sulu.
And he is the one who has a “royal army” to assert the clan’s claim to Sabah.
Will the Aquino administration step in and help the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo retake Sabah from Malaysia?
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima does not know the answer.
She said Monday that the government would know what action to take only after the completion of a comprehensive legal study on the ownership of Sabah.
De Lima said when President Aquino ordered the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President itself to look into the claim of the Sulu sultanate to Sabah, there was “no indication” at all of what his administration intended to do with the ownership question.
“What the President wants is to look at the merit or the validity of the Sabah claim before he makes any decision or before this government makes any policy direction with respect to that issue,” De Lima told reporters.
The study, however, has been prompted by a standoff between Malaysian security forces and a group of armed followers of the sultan of Sulu who entered Sabah on Feb. 9 and refused to leave, insisting Sabah was their ancestral land.
De Lima, who was tasked by the President to look into the legal aspect of the sultanate’s claim, said she would try to finish her part of the study this week.
She said no administration after that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos had taken a “definitive” stand on the controversy, apparently referring to the 1968 Jabidah massacre on Corregidor Island.
The killing of military recruits by their military trainers there exposed the top-secret plan “Operation Merdeka,” hatched by the Marcos regime to invade Sabah.
Merits of the case
“I think every administration endeavors to make a study but the administrations after Marcos [did not take] any definitive position,” she said, adding that was the reason the President wanted “to be enlightened on the merits of the claim.”
Asked whether reports of division within the family of the sultan of Sulu would affect the claim to Sabah, De Lima declined to comment, saying the government wanted to be “silent” on the issues involving the standoff in Sabah between the men of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III and Malaysian security forces.
What is clear, she said, is that the government “did not sanction” Jamalul’s actions.
The government is trying to help solve the standoff peacefully only because Filipinos are involved, De Lima said.
“But we want it to be as low-key as possible,” she added, referring to actions being taken by the government to end the standoff without bloodshed.
Meanwhile, De Lima said she had again postponed the departure of a four-member team of state prosecutors and lawyers to Kuala Lumpur to press for the extradition of alleged con man Manuel Amalilio to the Philippines.
The group was supposed to leave this week, but De Lima said the Malaysian attorney general would not be available until March 4.
De Lima said earlier that the standoff in Sabah did not appear to be affecting the government’s bid to bring Amalilio back to the Philippines with the help of Malaysia so he could face criminal charges for duping 15,000 people in Mindanao and the Visayas of P12 billion through a Ponzi scheme that collapsed last year.
Phl gov't urges Filipinos in Sabah standoff to return
| Updated February 25, 2013 - 9:00pm
MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - The Philippine government urged again today followers of a Filipino clan locked in a territorial standoff with Malaysian authorities to board the ship sent by the government in Sabah.
"We don't want anybody to get hurt," Philippine Foreign Affairs Spokesman Raul Hernandez told a press briefing. The fate of these Filipinos remains unclear if they continue to defy Malaysia's deadline to leave the area.
He said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario has requested Malaysia to extend the deadline until Tuesday's midnight as Manila continues to persuade the group to leave peacefully.
On the same day, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, " We do not wish bloodshed and we certainly hope that this situation be resolved peacefully and that continues to be our prayer."
He said the humanitarian ship sent to Lahad Datu in Sabah would stay there till they are needed.
Sultan of Sulu Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram sent on Feb. 12 around 180 of his followers, including women and 30 armed security escorts, to Lahad Datu, Sabah to resettle and fortify their claim to the Malaysian-controlled territory, igniting a diplomatic crisis between the Philippines and Malaysia.
Sabah, located south of Mindanao, is territorially disputed by the Philippines and Malaysia. A Philippine claim for sovereignty over the resource-rich territory has laid dormant for decades, but Malaysia continues to pay a yearly rent to the heirs of Sultan of Sulu.
Kiram's followers are regarded as intruders by Malaysian authorities but extended thrice a deadline for them to leave peacefully.
(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 26, 2013 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - The government is currently engaged in high-level talks with Malaysian authorities to ensure the safety of Filipinos in Sabah after supporters of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III holed up in Lahad Datu town to press their claim to the land.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario met yesterday with Malaysian Ambassador Zamri Bin Mohd Kassim to follow up the request for an extension of the deadline for the Filipinos to voluntarily leave Sabah.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has yet to receive any confirmation from Malaysia about the request for extension.
The Filipinos were only given until Tuesday by Malaysian authorities to voluntary leave Sabah.
“We are getting mixed signals so we asked that Tuesday midnight deadline be officially confirmed,” Del Rosario said in a text message.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the DFA decided to send a ship to Lahad Datu to fetch those who want to come back safely to the Philippines. Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) troops based in Sabah are reportedly converging near Lahad Datu to respond to any forced eviction of the sultan’s followers, an MNLF source said.
The Philippine Navy ship BRP Tagbanua on Sunday left for Malaysia on a humanitarian mission with social workers and medical personnel on board, to try to fetch five women and some group members.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of the sultanate of Sulu and Borneo, said Kiram’s followers would not honor the mercy mission dispatched by the Philippine government to escort his people back to Sulu because there was no formal coordination.
“Based on the pronouncement of Raja Muda, they will not talk to anyone who does not carry the torch from Sultan Kiram,” said Idjirani.
The Philippine and Malaysian authorities have said the group’s demands should be coursed through diplomatic channels. “Number one, on the general proposition that our government, the Malaysian government, and the Kiram family would like to have a peaceful resolution to this entire situation, we continue to hold that prayer,” Lacierda said.
As to what other steps the government will take, Lacierda said, “I am not authorized to speak on that. The DFA will be the office in-charge to lay out our policy on that matter.”
DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said the secretary had a meeting yesterday morning with the Malaysian ambassador.
“We want to know some details regarding what is happening as far as the Filipinos in Sabah are concerned. We are still hoping they will come back to us with official confirmation,” he said.
The Philippines on Saturday notified Malaysia about the ship arrangement, saying the vessel would stay off Lahad Datu while talks to persuade the Filipinos to return home continue.
Lacierda said he could not conclude whether the talks with the Kirams had failed or if their continued defiance prompted the DFA to send the ship.
“Again, our position has always been consistent. We do not wish bloodshed and we... certainly hope that this situation will be resolved peacefully and that continues to be our prayer,” Lacierda said.
He said the DFA and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II have been authorized to speak on the matter.
“But, as of now, we would like to hold off any comments. Our priority right now, again, is to end this whole situation peacefully. So pardon me if I will not be able to give you any answer on that point,” he said. Hernandez said Del Rosario also requested the Malaysian government to allow the ship to dock in Lahad Datu to bring food and fetch those who want to go back.
Del Rosario also reiterated his plea for the Filipinos in Sabah to return home for their own safety.
A food blockade is being imposed by the Malaysian authorities around the area, forcing the sultan’s followers to scavenge for food, and they are now reportedly eating root crops.
Lacierda said the ship would stay there as long as it is needed and “the offer to take care of them is there.”
“It’s a humanitarian mission. There are confirmed reports of women but we don’t know of children. That’s why we have social workers together with doctors in the boat to ascertain the situation on the ground,” he said.
The official said the sending of the ship was cleared with the Malaysian government and not with the Kirams.
He expressed hope the report that the Filipinos would not board the ship was not true.
The royal army of the sultanate has reportedly said they were ready to defend themselves if the Malaysian government would force them out of Sabah.
They said they would only return to the Philippines aboard the Navy ship if they were already dead.
Asked about the statement of Kiram that he was open to talk in neutral places like Hong Kong, Brunei, or Singapore, the Palace official said it would be up to the DFA to speak on the matter.
“I think Secretary Del Rosario has already spoken to the foreign minister of Malaysia and I think that’s high-level enough for them. They have been discussing this matter so... with respect, for instance, to the request for extension of deadlines. And, also, Secretary Del Rosario is in touch with the Malaysian ambassador,” he said.
When asked again if the talks with the Kirams really broke down, Lacierda said: “We firmly believe that we need to see the situation on the ground.”
Sultan’s men won’t leave
Meanwhile, the MNLF said more than a thousand civilian supporters of Kiram and his brother Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram in Sabah have also expressed their firm resolve not to return to the Philippines.
About 200 relatives of Kiram, including some 30 armed security guards, arrived in Lahad Datu two weeks ago, claiming Sabah belongs to their royal clan based in the province of Sulu.
Malaysian authorities regarded them as armed intruders and have tried to persuade them to leave peacefully, extending a deadline until Tuesday.
The Malaysian Armed Forces has assembled its Marines, Air Force and Navy personnel in Sabah and threatened to use force to dislodge Kiram’s followers.
Idjirani said the position of the sultanate was not to honor the mission of the Philippine government since they were not coordinated for such action.
“Our policy is always to make the people there feel we have the ‘markabat’ (dignity),” he said. However, Idjirani clarified Kiram is open to negotiation to settle the issue, provided it would give dignity to the sultanate’s claims to Sabah. Malaysian police have not said what kind of weapons the Filipinos possessed.
The sultanate maintained the over 200 people came to Lahad Datu peacefully, and it would be unwise for them to engage in battle a country equipped with submarine, naval ships and a modern military defense system.
Do or die
“But Raja Muda said they would have no other choice but to defend their stay once the Malaysian force would attack them. He said the issue would be settled only after they are all dead,” Idjirani said, citing the statement of Kiram’s younger brother.
Raja Muda is the younger brother of Kiram who led the more than 200 people in the standoff.
The MNLF expressed hope the stalemate would be resolved peacefully while stressing the sultanate of Sulu and Borneo has every right over their own land, which is only being rented by the Malaysians from them.
MNLF political affairs chief Haji Gapul Hajirul, citing their ground monitoring on the ongoing standoff in Sabah, said that around a thousand followers of the sultan, including women and children, have decided to remain in Lahad Datu.
Another source from the MNLF said if Malaysia would use force, their troops in Sabah would move to defend their brothers.
He said the MNLF in Sabah is joined by Tausug people, some already Malaysian citizens, in keeping a close watch on the sultanate army.
The MNLF declined to confirm or deny the reported mobilization of troops in Sabah.
“The issue is not about MNLF, it’s about the Tausugs and the Sultanate,” MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said.
MNLF chairman Nur Misuari had earlier warned Malaysia not to launch any police or military action against the group in Lahad Datu.
Misuari said he asked Prime Minister Najib Razak not to harm the group, some of whom he claimed were regular members of the MNLF.
He, however, clarified the MNLF contingent that went with the group of the sultanate has no permission to occupy the disputed territory.
Binay meets Kiram
Vice President Jejomar Binay confirmed yesterday he met with Kiram at a party hosted by a common friend last Sunday.
Binay clarified the meeting was accidental even as he refused to disclose the location of their meeting.
“I was surprised to see him there. I was introduced to him. He explained their position and I listened to him,” he said.
The vice president said he reiterated to Kiram the position of the Aquino government on the problem in Sabah and renewed his appeal for sobriety.
He said he told Kiram the parties involved should exert all efforts to arrive at a peaceful resolution. – With AP, Jose Rodel Clapano, Roel Pareo, Perseus Echeminada, Jaime Laude, Pia Lee-Brago
(The Philippine Star) | Updated February 26, 2013 - 12:00am
Next to controlling smuggling, diplomacy is the weakest suit of this administration. The deteriorating situation in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu town in Sabah underscores that.
Last week, the Sultanate of Sulu blindsided everybody by sending a couple of hundred armed followers to assert his proprietary claims in Sabah. The presence of troops from the “royal army” of the Sultanate was not an invasion (otherwise that would be completely comical). It was a maneuver intended to highlight the unresolved territorial claims stretching back in history.
For a week, nothing definite in terms of policy guidance emanated from the Palace. No top-level official was deployed to Kuala Lumpur (we have no consulate in Sabah because this could undermine our sovereign claims) to coordinate with Malaysian authorities in the handling of the bizarre incident. No one, it appears, was sent to the court of the Sultan to talk to him about withdrawing the armed force. No diplomat, it seems, was sent to Lahad Datu to mediate on behalf of Filipino citizens who might have put themselves in an unhealthy situation.
The Palace attitude, it seems, was to bury its head in the sand in the hope the problem would go away. In the meantime, we lost precious diplomatic time. In the meantime, the Sultanate had written the Malaysian prime minister asking that talks on the proprietary claims be reopened. The Sultanate eventually wrote the UN secretary-general to request third party assistance.
In the meantime, too, Malaysian authorities established a food blockade around the Tausog armed force. The food blockade was the best alternative to a firefight.
The first really official move the Philippine government undertook was to request Malaysia to extend its deadline by four days. The original deadline was last Friday. The new deadline happens today. What our government did in the interim is not clear.
We will know by sunset if the Sultan’s decision to send a detachment of heavily armed fighters to Sabah was a brilliant move or one of sheer folly. He might have restored the forgotten claim (ignored by the much touted Bangsamoro Framework Agreement) to the top of the agenda or merely provoked a senseless bloodbath.
The latest word has it that the Sultan of Sulu ordered his fighters to stand their ground at Tanduo. If the fighters obey that order, they will be martyrs to the claim.
Meanwhile, we hear nothing from the National Security Adviser, the Foreign Affairs Secretary or the Secretary of National Defense. The President was last heard babbling about his teenage crush for a senator seeking reelection.
There seems to be no sense of urgency at the top — just as there was such a resounding absence of any sense of urgency when that tragic Luneta hostage incident happened. The hair-trigger situation in Kapung Tanduo seems like a nuisance the national leadership devoutly wishes to ignore.
The greater interest in the Palace is to discover which among its factional rivals connived with the Sultan in conjuring up this national embarrassment. Underpinning that Palace attitude is a prejudiced view that Muslim Filipinos can only be stooges manipulated by Manila-based political factions.
Meanwhile, the prospects of the “royal army” and the thousands of Filipinos inhabiting Sabah rapidly deteriorates by the hour. Hard as the Palace might try to ignore it, the situation has now become seriously internationalized.
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) rejected a plan by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) to collect an additional P65 billion from consumers. Had that plan been approved, electricity bills will be much higher than the already painful increases due this month.
Electricity costs in the Philippines remain the second highest in Asia. This distinction has caused us to endure large economic costs, most prominent being the hollowing out of our manufacturing sector. In the more globalized environment, there is no way energy-intensive domestic manufacturing could compete with cheaper imports from neighboring economies with better-managed energy cost structures.
The withering away of our manufacturing sector is the single biggest cause of high unemployment in our economy. In turn, high unemployment results in higher poverty rates.
The vicious cycle is truly cruel. Even as our economy grows, the poverty profile worsens. The poor households consume less of everything else because of high electricity costs.
Cagayan Rep. Jackie Enrile, who advocates bringing down the electricity price regime, agrees with the ERC rejection of the PSALM plan — but says this is not enough. Since the bloated power costs cause the economy so much harm, Enrile says government should do more. While the PSALM needs to manage the debts incurred in the past by mismanagement of the power generation sector, the task must not compromise future economic growth especially for the poor.
Enrile suggests the share of government from the sale of indigenous energy resources be reduced from the present 60% to only 3%. He points out that government’s share from the sale of natural gas is five to eight times more than the taxes imposed on imported fuels such as coal, oil and liquefied natural gas. This is such an anomalous situation.
If government’s share from indigenous energy resources is reduced, overall electricity costs will decline. When that happens, the poor will be able to reallocate their limited purchasing power to meet other needs, principally food. That reallocation will cause broader, more inclusive economic expansion.
Because power costs plays such a vital role in determining the inclusiveness of our economic growth, Enrile’s proposal deserves a much closer look. It will serve our economy better if government does treat indigenous energy sources as just another revenue cow.
Sulu sultan one of Palace VIP guests at signing of peace deal
By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
2:04 am | Thursday, February 28th, 2013
When the government signed a preliminary peace deal with Moro rebels in October last year, it didn’t expect that one of the guests in Malacañang would cause an international crisis and deprive President Aquino of sleep.
Sultan Jamalul Kiram III was one of hundreds of guests who crammed a hall in the Palace to witness the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro on Oct. 15, 2012, Malacañang said on Wednesday.
Little did Malacañang know that Jamalul, one of the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, was feeling left out of the agreement and would order a group of his followers to Sabah to occupy the territory in an attempt to press his clan’s claim to the land.
No ringside seat?
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a press briefing Wednesday that Jamalul could not complain about not being given a good seat in Malacañang because he, too, had no seat.
“It was such a historic event. People just wanted to come in. There were so many important people there. Even the ambassadors were not seated. There was not a section devoted to the diplomatic [corps]. Everybody present sat with one another,” he said.
“The atmosphere was one of hope and one of optimism. It was unfortunate that he’s complaining only now. But the fact that he was invited … we recognized the fact out of the millions of Muslims in Mindanao, he was invited to come to the Palace. That should be an acknowledgment of the recognition of the traditional leadership in [the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao],” he said.
Contrary to Jamalul’s claim that the sultanate was left out of the talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the government panel met with him before the agreement was signed, Lacierda said.
“In the discussions on the peace process, the panel met with Sultan Jamalul Kiram. In fact, they were consulted. That’s the reason why if you look at the Bangsamoro framework agreement, there is a provision there, there’s respect for customary laws, traditional leaders,” he said.
The claim to Sabah was not tackled during the consultations “primarily because they recognized the peace process involved,” he added.
Staying up late
Stumping in Cagayan de Oro City for his administration’s senatorial candidates on Tuesday, President Aquino admitted staying up till 3 a.m. that day to write his televised appeal to Jamalul to order his followers to leave Sabah or face charges in court.
“Last night we prepared the statement about the Sabah incident. That lasted until 1:30 a.m. After that, Gov. [Mujiv] Hataman reported the outcome of his talks with the Kirams, and that was around 2 a.m. Everything was finished by 3 a.m. I got up from bed at 7 a.m. to deliver the statement, and then we flew here,” he told a large crowd in the Don Gregorio Pelaez Sports Complex.