Sulu sultan won’t budge
Undaunted amidst mounting pressure from both the Philippine and Malaysian governments, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, the acknowledged leader of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo insisted that his royal decree that authorized the presence of his younger brother, crown prince Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram and the combined civilian and armed followers in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia, stays.
“My decree is not about war. We are not waging war. I sent my brother in Sabah in the name of peace and in exercise of our historic, ancestral and sovereign right over Sabah,” Jamalul told the INQUIRER in a phone interview facilitated through members of his family who were beside him as he was resting after undergoing his regular dialysis treatment.
Jamalul is in Metro Manila and is guarded by family and close relatives.
Asked as to until when his decree stays? Jamalul said, “For as long as necessary. Sabah is our homeland and the international community acknowledges this. If we have to go to the United Nations we will do so. It is upon us, the leaders of Sulu to claim back what is ours,” the sultan added.
Does he have any message for the Philippine government?
“Everything I want to tell the President, I already told him in a letter sent to him, shortly after he assumed the presidency in 2010. I told him in that letter that it is the noble dream of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo to achieve unity, peaceful survival and economic prosperity and to be able to achieve that, the Sabah issue cannot be ignored,” Jamalul said.
Jamalul is 74 years old, the eldest among the Kiram brothers who are direct descendants of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. He ran and lost for senator in the 2007 National Elections under the Team Unity of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Abraham Julpa Idjirani, secretary general and spokesperson for the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo said, Jamalul was supposed to meet on Saturday afternoon with some officials of the Aquino administration but was not able to do so because of the dialysis treatment.
Jamalul’s wife Fatima Celia told the INQUIRER that her husband has been undergoing dialysis treatment for more than a year now.
Open to talks with Palace
Idjirani said, they are open to talks with any official sent by Malacañang as he was already contacted by several officials of the Aquino administration since the standoff in Lahad Datu, Malaysia, was reported in the media. He did not identify the officers who got in touch with him but mentioned the agencies these officials are attached to. “Magpahinga lang si Sultan Jamalul, at pag naka-pahinga na siya, puwede na naming harapin ang sinumang opisyal na gustong makipag-usap sa kanya (After resting, Sultan Jamalul can face any official who wants to talk to him),” Idjirani said.
The INQUIRER also learned from another independent source who wished not to be identified that President Benigno Aquino III was informed of the presence of civilian and armed supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu in Lahad Datu, Malaysia, as early as the morning of Feb. 11 through one of his Cabinet members. “But at that time, the report was still sketchy and we had no idea who the group was. But the President was alerted about this on Day 1 of their landing in Sabah,” the source said.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser in the Peace Process had no comment on Saturday on the Kirams’ claim that they were taking back Sabah.
In Lahad Datu in Sabah, Agbimuddin told the Inquirer that he only follows and receives order from Jamalul and no one else. No one can force us to leave. Even if I, as crown prince of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo is guarded by armed men belonging to our royal security forces, we will never provoke any encounter,” Agbimuddin said.
Members of the royal security force are armed with assorted long firearms, Agbimuddin said. “M-14, M-16, M203, Baby Armalite, basta assorted ang dala namin (we have all kinds),” he explained when asked what type of firearms they were carrying.
The active recruitment for members of the royal security force of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, according to Agbimuddin, began in 1999 but training only began in 2001 in Simunol, Tawi-Tawi, Isabela, Basilan and even in mainland Zamboanga. “Sa Grand Stand pa nga kami ng Zamboanga nag-physical fitness exercise at alam ng Southcom ’yan (We do our physical fitness exercises at the Zamboanga grand stand, and the Southcom knew it),” Agbimuddin added.
The Southcom he is referring to is the Southern Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines based in Zamboanga City and the Grand Stand is the one near Cawa-Cawa Boulevard.
Relatives on board
Who takes care of their logistics? Like food and other basic necessities since their landing in Lahad Datu?
Agbimuddin said, most of the residents of Tanduao, Lahad Datu, are Tausugs and relatives of the ones who went with him on board a motorboat from Tawi-Tawi. “Hindi kami magugutom dito at ang mga babae na kasama namin, sila ang nagluluto para sa amin (The women who are with us are doing the cooking).”
Will other groups with the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo follow him in Lahad Datu?
Agbimuddin answered that was his understanding, but he said he didn’t know when. There might even be more, he said.
Another source from Sulu told the Inquirer that a group identified with a local political clan with a stronghold in one municipality there is reportedly getting ready to follow Agbimuddin in Sabah. The source identified the political leader as a relative of the Kirams and also a former mayor and a former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) known then as the “Tiger of the MNLF.”
“The mayor is getting ready and waiting for the order from Sultan Kiram III to proceed [to Sabah],” the source said in Filipino, adding that the influential leader in Sulu, now in his early 60s, command a force of more than 200 men.