DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 February) — I was shaken a bit when I learned that a group loyal to the Kiram family of Sulu publicly announced their intentions of pushing for the sultanate’s Sabah claim by a “mass action or a show of force” in Lahad Datu, a coastal town of Sabah. The reports are not so clear yet so we don’t have details of the so-called “standoff” between Malaysian authorities and the 200 or so Muslim Filipinos (some of them armed).
A bit of a backgrounder:
It is said that before governments came, the King of Brunei once sought help from the Sultanate of Sulu to quell a rebellion in the former’s kingdom. In return for winning the day for the Brunei king, a piece of land now known as Sabah was given to the Sultanate as a reward. Since that time up to now, the Kiram family of Sulu maintains it has proprietary rights over Sabah as evidenced by the lease entered into between the Sultanate and the British North Borneo Co. in 1878. In 1963, the British turned over to Malaysia control over Sabah and a 50-year lease was reportedly entered into with Malaysia still paying annual “rentals” to the Sultanate. There are reports that the contract of lease is expiring next month (50 years from 1963). The Kirams evidently want to re-establish or re-confirm their rights by actual “occupancy”. Hence, the current controversy.
The Marcos years saw the infamous “Jabidah Massacre” where Muslims who were allegedly secretly trained in Corregidor to invade Sabah were murdered to prevent the “oplan” from being divulged, except for a lone survivor, Abidin Arula, who succeeded on telling the world about the alleged invasion plan. The “Jabidah Massacre” so angered the Muslim world that a group of Muslims, led by a Tausug professor at the University of the Philippines named NUR MISUARI rose up in arms and started a rebellion to seek justice. The rest is history.
Fast forward to present time.
I called my frat brod, ATTY RANDOPLH “BONG” PARCASIO, one of the closest to Chairman Nur (called Ma’as” by those close to him) to find out if the MNLF had some hand in this latest caper in Sabah. I got this initial feeling because I was the one who fetched Chairman Nur from Malaysia when he was arrested by Malaysian authorities in the early years of the Arroyo administration after a failed “rebellion” in Sulu. Of course he was a prime suspect but he was subsequently cleared by a Philippine court. I recall Ma’as telling me on board the C-130 PAF cargo plane that ferried us back to Luzon that he would not stop fighting for the return of Sabah “come what may”. He must be nursing not only the Bangsamoro aspiration of recovering their homeland (including Sabah) but also was hurting due to the way he was treated by the Malaysians during his detention.
But Atty. Bong immediately denied the involvement of MNLF and Ma’as in this latest incident in Sabah, although they both have the compelling motives to do so. “We are busy with our campaigns (Bong is running for congressman in the 2nd district of Davao del Sur) and Chairman Nur is busy dealing with the Abu Sayyaf menace in Sulu and also his candidacy for governor,” Bong immediately said. I’ll take it on its face value for the meantime.
There is a lot of ramification in this present Sabah incident that needs to be untangled. For example, the MILF is fighting for the Bangsamoro homeland but it has excluded (conveniently or otherwise) mention of Sabah in its demand for specific areas. Of course, Malaysia being a facilitator in the peace talks gives some inkling to observers why Sabah is not in the radar screen of the parties to the negotiations.
There is more than meets the eye, as the saying goes.
In the meantime, let’s just all sit by and watch. Interesting developments are still in the offing
(Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was Presidential Assistant for Mindanao from February 1, 1998 to June 30, 1998. He returned to that post in January 2001 when Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over as President from the impeached Joseph Estrada. Aside from serving as the Presidential assistant, he served in various capacities under the Arroyo administration, as government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF, as Press Secretary, as Legal Adviser. He now heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and is publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).