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Putrajaya, Manila toyed with Sulu claim

 | March 8, 2013

Greed and political expediency have left the Philippines and Malaysia with blood on their hands.

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LAHAD DATU: Was the Lahad Datu invasion by the royal Sulu army a case of frustration coming to a boil as a result of arrogant and dismissive Philippine and Malaysian authorities having trivialised persistent calls for respect, recognition and a review of the Sulu sultanate’s lease fee?

Reports spilling out of Manila following the stand-off and subsequent bloody clashes between Malaysian security forces and the Sulu army have thrown up a plethora of reasons ranging from the simplistic to  the intriguing as both nations face defining domestic elections and, on a macro level, the looming shadows of China and the US.

On the Philippine domestic end, you have the Aquinos and Arroyos. In Malaysia it’s Najib versus Anwar. For the the latter two,  Sabah is the political frontier which will define who will rule Putrajaya post the 13th general election.

Until last Friday when clashes broke out following the three-week stand-off in Lahad Datu,  the odds were favouring the opposition.

In Manila, the questions being asked are why did President Benigno Aquino sideline the Kirams and what were the “deals”, if any, struck between the Aquino and Najib administrations on Sabah?

Over the past week, even as fighting escalated in Semporna and Lahad Datu, comments from either side on the issue have been inconsistent.

While Malaysia had patronisingly dismissed the intruders as sarong-clad-slipper-wearing malnourished “farmers”, Philippines had condescendingly told Sultan Jamalul Kiram III to order his inept boys back.

At one point, a frustrated Aquino had dismissed Kiram’s historical claim on Sabah but he later relented, saying a legal team had been set up to study the matter.

Reports that Manila had lost an important letter written and sent by Crown Prince Agbimuddin Kiram to the Philippine president in June 2010 had only fuelled the Sulu angst and left them believing that Manila was toying with them.

After all, these were not sudden issues that had popped up for the Philippines and Malaysia. Sulu, in fact, has been a perennial headache for both nations. It didn’t help either that Aquino’s initial emmisary to see Kiram III had been reportedly disrespectful and left the sultan feeling humiliated.

Umno’s vote bank

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario’s admission on Wednesday that he failed to attend to the  “missing” letter, in which Agbimuddin had stated their claims on Sabah, the paltry rent they were being paid by Malaysia and their desire to take part in the peace talks with MILF , came too late.

Agbimuddin was leading the fight in Lahad Datu, in the east coast of Sabah, which is home to thousands of Filipinos who escaped from southern Mindanao during the earlier decades of civil unrest.

Children and grandchildren have since been born off these war refugees in Sabah. Their family ties allegedly now stretch as far up as the federal government and to Umno in particular.

Thousands of them were recipients of citizenships and MyKads in the 1990s as a result of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s aim to neutralise the Christians demographics in Sabah and ensure a loyal Muslim vote-bank for “life” for Umno.

The tens and thousands of Sulus like the Indonesians, Pakistanis and Afghans in Sabah have kept Umno in power for decades. Witness testimonies at the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) hearing in Sabah in January offered shocking insights into this Mahathir agenda.

It’s also amiss that  Malaysia, knowing full well the Sulus’ deep links to Sabah, had not thought it odd that they were not included in the peace negotiations. The question then is, was the omission intentional? It seems somewhat imbecilic to think that Malaysia may have overlooked them by accident.

It seems too that Malaysia was incredibly careless and supercilious with how it has handled the Sulu issue, especially since it had admitted paying the Sulu royalty an annual lease fee, which a Kiram princess reportedly described as “not even enough to pay rental for an apartment”. Reports claim the Kirams receive RM5,500 a year from Malaysia, a sum which is shared among the lineage.

And there is also the increasing curiosity as to why a new negotiated “settlement” with the Kirams scheduled to have been paid on Jan 11 via a bank appointed by Bank Negara was withheld for some “unknown” reason.

A Kiram family member involved in the negotiation was stumped by the delay because the Malaysian authorities, she said, had been “receptive” and had agreed to the settlement.

In the first stage, the Sulu intruders had quietly slipped pass our sophisticated border patrols and landed in Lahad Datu on Feb 9. By Feb 12, they had made the news.

Their sole aim at that point, according to reports, appeared to have been to force both Malaysia and the Philippines into holding direct honest negotiations with the Kirams over rights, royalty and recognition.

As far as they were concerned, neither the Philippines, whom they had placed their implicit trust in for years to look out for their interest, nor Umno-Malaysia, whom Sabah Sulus had kept in power, had reflected the Kirams’ faith in them.

Greed and political expediency had cost lives. People have died brutal deaths in this Lahad Datu war and the Philippine government, along with Malaysia, have blood, widows and orphans on their hands.

Also read:

Sabah claim: A tale of two versions


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