Sulu Sultanate Army Refused to Leave Sabah
(Article No. 16 – The Vincent Times)
February 25, 2013
Neither Kuala Lumpur’s ultimatum nor Manila’s pleadings would make the members of the Sulu Sultanate Army give up their position and leave Lahad Datu in Sabah where they have been holed up for more than two weeks now.
The ultimatum issued by Malaysia for the Filipino-Moslems to leave voluntarily or risk being attacked by the police would have ended on February 22. However, this was extended after the Philippines requested for a 4-day extension saying that their government have been trying to persuade the followers of the Sultanate of Sulu to leave Sabah.
Malaysian authorities have cordoned the area both by sea and land to ensure that the Filipino group would be isolated. There are reports indicating that the followers of the Sultan of Sulu are running short of food supplies.
In a statement issued on February 24, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila announced that a ship commissioned by the Philippine government will sail from Tawi-tawi in Sulu to Lahad Datu on a “humanitarian mission.” The ship is specifically tasked to fetch the women and civilians in the group of the armed Filipino-Moslems who are seemingly not intending to abandon their cause.
But the group in Lahad Datu will not board the ship. As they promised when the standoff started, they will stay there no matter what.
As declared by Abraham Iridjani, the spokesman of the Sultanate of Sulu, those holed up in Sabah will not give up their position. Only Sultan Jamalul Kiram III could order them to leave. But as it is, the Sultan remains steadfast on his stand that they are not getting out of Sabah because it rightfully belongs to their sultanate.
In an interview, Iridjani said, “With due apologies to the Malaysian government, the members of the Sultanate of Sulu will stay. The standoff will end only when they are dead because what they are fighting for is not only for their families but for the entire Philippines.”
Repercussions of a Bloody End to the Standoff
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario of the Philippines reiterated what have the government in Manila been saying that the entire group must end the standoff and go back to their respective families. Del Rosario added that this they must do for their own safety and that they can rest assured that everything is being done to address the core issues they have raised.
But the Sultan of Sulu is seemingly not keen on heeding the call of the Philippine government insisting that they are fighting for what belongs to them.
The community of nations believing that it would be more beneficial to end conflicts diplomatically, it may be unlikely that Malaysia and the Philippines will go to war in case the Sabah standoff ends violently. But while the probability of the ASEAN brothers going to war is very low, many believe that should Malaysia decide to end the standoff in Sabah by force, they may raise the specter of a civil war in Sabah.
Ramon Tulfo, a columnist in the Phililppines, citing an unnamed source, said that one-third of the population of Sabah is Tausog. He added that the Tausogs, the fiercest of Philippine Moro tribes, respect the Sultan of Sulu in much the same way Malaysians pay homage to their royal family.
Tulfo surmised that if any harm will be done against Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, the brother of their Sultan, the Tausogs in Sabah, Sulu and Tawi-tawi will retaliate. He said that it’s very easy for armed Tausogs to enter Sabah and wage guerilla war against the Malaysian government should hostilities break out.
Both the Kuala Lumpur and Manila governments are exercising caution in addressing the standoff. Both are trying their best not to exacerbate the situation.
Would Malaysia Offer to Raise Sabah Rent?
Another Filipino columnist, Federico Pascual, offered his insights to the on-going standoff between the Sultanate of Sulu and the Malaysian government. In his column in a Philippine newspaper he said that the Sabah dilemma may have a commercial resolution. He posed the question, “What happens if Malaysia makes a material offer that the heirs of the Sulu sultan pursuing the property rights over Sabah can not refuse?”
Pascual divulged that there are documents that would show that the Sultan’s heirs are interested in a rent increase. He quoted a source saying that in 1996, a princess in Kiram’s family wrote then Prime Minister Mahathir to raise the rental from approximately P70,000 to $1,000,000. Added in that letter is an offer that should Malaysia offer a fair settlement, the Sultanate of Sulu will renounce the Sabah claim. The letter was ignored by Mahathir.
A similar letter was sent again to Mahathir on 2001 getting the same result…ignored.
The claim to Sabah has never been asserted by the Sultanate of Sulu in the same manner that they are doing now. Perhaps it’s time for the Malaysian government to reconsider its position as regards the annual rent they are paying to the Sultan.