COTABATO CITY, Philippines—A former Moro rebel official now working as government peace consultant said Saturday members of the Malaysian contingent on the International Monitoring Team have been advised to limit their movements following Friday’s clash between Malaysian security forces and a group of followers of the sultan of Sulu who had been holed up in a village in Lahad Datu to assert their claim to Sabah.
At least 10 members of the “homecoming” party of the Sultanate of Sulu and two Malaysian commandoes were reportedly killed when Malaysian police forces stormed their encampment in Felda Sahabat 17 in Lahad Datu.
Eid Kabalu, former spokesperson of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, told the Inquirer by phone there were fears the Malaysian contingent would be targeted if sympathizers or followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III decide to avenge the Tausug deaths.
Malaysian IMT members are deployed in various Moro areas, including Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. The IMT members do not only monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF but they are also involved in the implementation of socio-economic and humanitarian programs.
“Authorities are now beefing up their security as part of precautionary measures,” Kabalu said.
But he clarified that so far, there has been no indication that followers of Kiram were targeting any Malaysian IMT members.
“But while there is no prior information, the Malaysian contingent was asked to limit movements,” he said.
Meanwhile, despite claims by Malaysian authorities they have ended the stand-off, tension remains high in Lahad Datu.
Jecel Kiram, Jamalul’s daughter, said that her uncle, Agbimuddin Kiram, who led the expedition to Sabah, had managed to elude the Malaysian police and was now in an undisclosed area of Sabah with most of his followers.
The younger Kiram said that despite the setback it suffered on Friday, the “royal army” will not leave Sabah, which, she said, belongs to the sultanate.
“Some of them had died or had been captured but they are staying there,” Jecel told a radio station here on Saturday.
Makabayan senatorial candidate Teddy Casiño and Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares said in separate statements furnished the Inquirer that Malaysia’s action was “an utter breach of diplomacy and an affront to the Filipino people and the civilized world.”
“Malaysia is practically in control of Sabah. They did not need to resort to military operations. In fact, there is still time and opportunity to exhaust all options to peacefully solve the problem,” Casiño said, adding that Kuala Lumpur should be held liable for the deaths of the sultan’s followers.
Casiño, who had earlier suggested the revival of the Sabah claim, said that aside from Malaysia, the Aquino government was also liable “for mishandling the Sabah problem.”
“His hardline policy of no-talk unless they pull out, in addition to prosecution, practically pushed Kiram’s group against the wall. Paano sila uuwi eh kakasuhan din sila?” he asked.
Casiño added that the Aquino government’s position might have also emboldened Malaysian security forces to take on Kiram’s group “because their own President appears hostile (to) the Filipino Muslims’ attempt to stake their claim to Sabah.”
“What kind of President orders a group with a strong historical and legal claim to just leave Sabah without any promise of dialogue? We find it perplexing that Aquino is refusing to dialogue with our Muslim countrymen about the Sabah claim,” Casiño added.
Colmenares described the aftermath of the attack as an incident that “required accountability.”
“The Philippines must lodge a strong protest,” he said.
Casiño said it was also high time Philippines revived the Sabah claim by elevating it to the United Nations, “and pursue diplomatic talks with Malaysia for a just, comprehensive and peaceful solution.”
“The government cannot just dismiss the Sabah claim and order all Filipino Muslims in Sabah to ‘come home.’ Many historical accounts reveal that the Sultanate of Sulu predates all existing governments. The Philippine government must follow through on its official claim to the territory not only for the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu, but for Filipino people and nation,” he said.
Colmenares said the government should “defend our territory.”
“Aquino should face this territorial dispute with patriotism,” he said, adding that the “standoff might have been avoided if Aquino recognized the legitimacy of Kiram’s claim to Sabah and helped them negotiate with the Malaysian government.”
“The Philippines and the sultanate, more than any entity, have solid historical and legal basis for claiming Sabah. Sabah is within the Philippine territory and Aquino should have had asserted, along with our Muslim brothers and sisters, our sovereignty,” Colmenares said.
He said while Aquino was obviously trying to appease Malaysia by not pursuing the Sabah claim, he has adopted a selective patriotism by pursuing the claim to the Panatag Shoal.
Colmenares said he suspected that the claim to the Panatag Shoal was being pursued because it would please the United States, which has been raring to deploy troops and weapons against China.
Meanwhile, Esmail Kiram II, another younger brother of Jamalul, said the Malaysian and the Philippine governments cannot just tell the Tausugs to leave Sabah.
He said that in reality, many ethnic Tausugs live in Sabah and they are known there as Orang Suluk (people from Sulu).
“Many Suluks from Sulu and Filipino Muslims and Christians fled Mindanao due to the conflict and the government of Malaysia opened up the door of Sabah to allow them to seek shelter and protection there,” he said.