Don: Peace dividends in southern Philippines benefits Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Despite Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte ruling out peace talks with terror groups like Abu Sayyaf, Sabah hopes that it can benefit from peace in the southern part of the neighbouring country.

The optimism, according to a university don, is based on Duterte’s willingness to reach out to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Founder Nur Misuari and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by Al Haj Ebrahim Murad.

For one, the Philippines President was also willing to look at the comprehensive peace deal brokered by Malaysia with the MILF but blocked by the Philippines Congress. However, the emphasis would be on bringing in the MNLF in particular in Sulu.

The head of the Strategic Security Research Centre at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Zaini Othman, noted that Duterte was willing to be inclusive. “Such a move would ensure that all stakeholders get a share of the cake,” said Zaini in a Jakarta Post report.

Still, he said, Duterte should look seriously at Abu Sayyaf which had engaged in kidnapping g activities in Sabah.

The Philippine President, he added, was nevertheless taking a very “strategic” approach in bringing the two major players in the conflict in southern Philippines to the negotiation table. “This would bring stability to the southern Philippines and stop the spillover effects from plaguing Sabah with social problems.”

Manila’s new approach, he continued, was a practical approach towards peace in the southern part of the Philippines. “As long as Misuari is not left out from the mainstream of southern Philippines politics, he will not pose a threat to Malaysia,” said Zaini.

Misuari, a former Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, has been a fugitive ever since he led an attack on Zamboanga City in 2013. Earlier, Malaysia sent Misuari back to the Philippines after he instigated a war on his government in November 2001.

Zaini called on the Malaysian Government to read the sociological picture in the southern Philippines. This, he said, involves various feudal elements including warlords who could destabilize the peace process in the southern Philippines.