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Tap Misuari, Sulu sultan in resolving Sabah standoff, Islamic think tank urges PH govt
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MANILA, Philippines - A peaceful resolution of the standoff in Sabah between Malaysian forces and followers of the Sulu Sultanate needs the involvement of parties crucial to the issues, such as Nur Misuari, chairman of the original Moro rebel front MNLF, and the Sultan of Sulu himself, according to a think tank on peace and development in Muslim areas.

The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), commenting on the Lahad Datu standoff that began February 12 and the Sabah claim, likewise made three more proposals to the Aquino administration:

- revive the Sabah claim before the proper international forums;

- protect the proprietary rights of the Sulu Sultanate, which in the sixties ceded to the Philippine government its claim on the resource-rich territory that it had only leased to a private British company but which ended up being “given” by the British government to Malaysia when its federation was born; and

- create a Sabah Committee, under the Office of the President, to address the Philippine Claim to Sabah.

The PCID said it “strongly supports a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the Sabah standoff between the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysian security forces in Lahad Datu, Sabah. The involvement of key players, such as MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari and the Sultan of Sulu will be instrumental in resolving this impasse. They, together with the Malaysian and Philippine government leaders, must ensure that the situation does not escalate into violence. All avenues must be taken to avoid bloodshed.”

The PCID proposals were contained in a statement from its President, Amina Rasul, daughter of former senator Santanina Rasul.

Led by Rajah Mudah (Crown Prince) Agmuddin Kiram,  brother of Sultan Jamalul III, the over 100 Filipinos, some armed, initially said they landed on Lahad Datu to visit their "homeland" but  later declared they are reasserting their dominion over Sabah, and were acting on orders from Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

As of Sunday, two days after the lapse of a deadline set by Malaysia for the sultan’s forces to leave or be forcibly deported, Palace officials said there was no new development in Manila’s bid to extend by four days such deadline, or until February 26.

PCID noted that while the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, urged the sultan’s party to leave peacefully, the Moro National Liberation Front primarily based in the Sulu archipelago and led by Misuari, was supporting the Sultan’s Sabah claim while calling for a peaceful resolution of the situation.  

PCID also addressed fears that the revival of the Sabah issue might negatively affect the peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, since this was facilitated by the Malaysian government.  “The Philippine government and the MILF had signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012, with the support of Malaysia. The rising tension over the situation in Lahad Datuh needs to be resolved not just expeditiously but peacefully. It is necessary to ensure that the standoff does not deteriorate into violence.  A violent resolution of the Lahad Datu situation will have negative impact on the finalization of the Philippine Government-Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace process. “ 

It noted the view of some critics that the framework agreement had apparently left out the MNLF and again cast aside the Sabah question. “The Framework Agreement covers a territory that includes the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Basilan.  These provinces are part of the domain of the Sultanate of Sulu, which has historical claim over Sabah.  Thus, while there is no mention about Sabah in the FAB, there is a Philippine claim over Sabah, which has been brought to the International Court of Justice.  Leaders of the island provinces, part of the Sultanate of Sulu, have always maintained that   the historical claim to Sabah must be taken into consideration in the peace process,” said PCID.

At the same time, it urged the Aquino administration to reactivate its pursuit of the resolution of the Philippine claim over Sabah, which it had filed before the International Court of Justice.  “A just and peaceful resolution of the sovereign claim of the Sulu Sultanate, erstwhile ceded to the Philippine Government, will remove a thorny issue that has caused much uncertainty in the relationship between Malaysia and the Philippines.” 

The Philippine government, added PCID, “should protect the proprietary rights of Sultan Jamalul Alam's heirs,  identified in the 1939 ruling of Chief Justice C.F.C. Macaskie of the High Court of North Borneo.”  It identified the heirs as:  Dayang-Dayang (Princess) Hadji Piandao, who was acknowledged as the major share-holder with 3/8 share; Princess Tarhata Kiram and Princess Sakinur-In Kiram, were to have 3/16th share each; Mora Napsa, Sultan Esmail Kiram, Datu Punjungan, Sitti Mariam, Sitti Jahara and Sitti Rada, who were awarded 1/24th share each.

PCID noted that “all the principal heirs have died.  The rights of their heirs, most of whom are Filipino citizens, must be protected by the Philippine Government.”  

The PCID called on the Philippine government to create a Sabah Committee, under the Office of the President, to address the Philippine Claim to Sabah.  The members of the Committee should include the Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Justice, Department of Local Government, Department of National Defense, Mindanao Development Authority, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, a representative of the Sultanate of Sulu as well as a representative of the heirs to Sabah.  

That past Philippine administrations failed to reach a lasting and generally acceptable conclusion to the Sabah issue “must not discourage the stakeholders and peace advocates from pursuing an inclusive, just and sustainable formula that will satisfy the concerns not just of the Philippine and Malaysian Governments but particularly of the Sulu Sultanate and the private heirs to Sabah,” said PCID.