Not contented with their fight for identity (or supremacy) within the Philippines, some Muslim groups in the southern string of islands of Sulu are now gearing for war against another country, Malaysia.
Banking on a supposed admission by the Malaysian government of their ancestral rights to rule Sabah, the Sultanate of Sulu have justified the encroachment of several armed Muslim Filipinos in Lahad Datu in Sabah. In particular, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III claims that payment by the Malaysian government of 5,300 Malaysia ringgit per year for the “lease” of Sabah is clear proof his kingdom has ancestral rights over what is now Malaysian territory. Because of this, he dispatched his brother Raja Muda (“Crown Prince”) Agbimuddin Kiram to settle in “their homeland” with armed posse to protect him. Along with this “beach head landing” of Sulu royalties and their handful of knights in shining armor on Malaysian soil is the amassing of the Sultanate’s armed supporters in Sulu who are ready to cross international borders to “invade” Malaysia. What more, it was reported that the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has placed its fighters in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi on red alert. Whoa! This seems like a scrappy rat charging a toothpick against a fat toothy pussy!
Granting for the sake of argument that the Sultanate of Sulu is the rightful owner of Sabah and Sulu (plus Palawan and half of Mindanao as shown in the map above), these territories ceased to be part of its fiefdom when Sulu become territory of the sovereign Republic of the Philippines in 1946. Thus, it is the Republic of the Philippines who calls the shots now, not a bunch of “homecoming” princes and princesses who are carelessly bringing the entire country to a verge of a shooting war with Malaysia – a more powerful country in terms of military resources. Not to mention putting into limbo the welfare of 800,000 hardworking Filipino overseas workers in Malaysia (who would rather fight than be war mongers).
Its commendable that the Philippine government is quick to defuse the tension. Foremost in its agenda is to police the straight between the two countries. Good move if the Philippine Navy do better sea patrols than what they did to cordon the escaping Abu Sayyaf. Next, Philippine President Benigno “Pnoy” Aquino urged Sultan Kiram to stand down and pull back its forces from Lahad Datu. On the part of the Malaysian government,the Sabah intrusion was downsized as a simple police matter and not an invasion. They seem concerned about making a big international incident that may hurt their wealthy neighbor, the Sultanate of Brunei who are reportedly relatives of the Sultan of Sulu.
But Sultan Kiram arrogantly declared that ready to face the consequences” of his defiance of President Aquino’s directive saying they have not violated any law.
“Mr. President, I Sultan Jamalul Kiram, pledge that my brother Datu Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and our followers will not initiate the violence and signed it with blood and that of my brothers. But we are prepared to defend our lives and aspirations,” he said in a message to the President. (Translation: We are ready to fight the Malaysian Army if they come to arrest or deport us). Now that is tantamount to sending a “suicide force” just to stress the Sultanate’s alleged royal claim to Sabah. The seemingly peaceful and pro-Philippines stance of the Sultanate of Sulu is most likely a double-edged sword. If the argument of the Sultanate of Sulu works against the Malaysians, it will surely work against the Philippines as it also occupies “territories” that by birth right are owned by the Sultanate of Sulu and the Tausug tribe.
President Aquino should not back down from his admirable management of the Sabah situation. He too should treat this as a minute issue: a bunch of illegal Filipinos in Malaysian territory. A matter most probably taken cared of by the Foreign Affairs Department and their diplomats. He should honor the rule of international law and the sovereignty of Malaysia over its territory. Absent any international ruling that Sabah is Philippine territory due to its heritage, the Philippines should not aid and support these troublesome groups who in the future may turn their guns around and demand from the Philippine government a separate Muslim state for the same logic and reason.