Manila enjoys poking Sulu Sultan, to stir the pot


KOTA KINABALU: The Diplomat, in an op-ed on the installation of Phugdalun Kiram II as the Sultan of Sulu following the death of Esmail Kiram II last year, does not go into whether the new claimant was a descendant of the nine people recognized by the High Court of Borneo in 1939 as the heirs of the defunct sultanate and thereby entitled to a share of the annual RM5,000 ‘cession” money paid by the government in North Borneo every year.

Instead, the magazine said “the importance of the tribes can’t be underestimated, and this was highlighted by Phugdalun Kiram II being named as Sultan of Sulu, a clan position with pretensions to ownership of huge swathes of land including much of Sabah”.

“Manila enjoys poking the Sultan of Sulu, if only to stir the pot,” said The Diplomat. “Sultan Phugdalun Kiram II has declared he will continue to pursue his family’s claim over much of North Borneo. He wants an international conference to resolve the issue once and for all.”

Apparently, he has written to Putrajaya outlining his plans. However, the Najib Administration has not responded. “Not that it needs to.”

“The Sultan’s claim is an incredulous thought among Sabahans who view the Kirams as pretentious Philippine country folk.”

Still, said the magazine, the “nagging dispute” has all sorts of unwanted ramifications. “Filipinos living in Sabah desperately need a consulate, but Manila refuses.”

“To put one in Sabah, critics argue, would mean Philippine recognition of Malaysian sovereignty over Sabah.”

More importantly, it added, lawlessness in Mindanao and the islands on the eastern fringes of the Sulu and Celebes seas have allowed local insurgents to team up with jihadists from Malaysia and Indonesia who fought with the Islamic State, also known as Daesh. Already, the Australian and British Governments issued warnings last week against unnecessary travel to Kuala Lumpur and Sabah, citing potential terrorist attacks.

The stakes in this deadly game are again rising and the presence of another Sulu Sultan pressing his family’s claims are about as welcome as yet “another fly in the already soiled ointment”, said The Diplomat. “His claims are a sideshow to the main event.”

Still, like many other ethnic and rebel groups that operate in the region, the Sultan and his clan are likely to remind everyone from time to time of their presence.”