The heirs of the Sultan of Sulu are considering asking the help of the United States in the ongoing standoff between government forces and armed Filipinos in a Sabah village, over which Malaysia says it won’t compromise its sovereignty.
“The American government has a record of always protecting the rights of its citizens, unlike our government here,” former senator Santanina Rasul, one of the heirs who lays claim over Sabah, which is located on the northern portion of the island of Borneo, said.
Rasul told journalists yesterday that one of her sons, Abraham Rasul Jr, has come up with the idea of asking for US help “in exerting his right to his share of inheritance”, since he was now an American citizen. The Philippine Daily Inquirer also quoted her as saying that six heirs of Jamalul Kiram, Sulu’s current sultan, were now American citizens as well.
On Tuesday, Kiram was quoted in the media as having told his followers, who had crossed into Sabah’s Lahad Datu town from the southern Philippine autonomous island-province of Sulu on February 12, to stay put and reclaim their ancestral land.
“Why should we leave our own home?” he said in Manila last Sunday. “In fact, they [Malaysians] are paying rent [to us]. Our followers will stay in Lahad Datu. Nobody will be sent to the Philippines. Sabah is our home.”
The claimants put the number of their Muslim brothers and followers who are armed and holed up in Lahad Datu at 300, but said there were 1,500 of them who travelled to Sabah by speedboats on February 12.
Malaysia, which put at only about 100 the number of armed Filipinos, has increased its police, army and naval activities within a 24-kilometre radius around Tanduao, as Kuala Lumpur said these Filipinos would be deported.
The Philippine government said its primary priority in the standoff is the safety and security of the Filipinos. It has been gathering pertinent information on the chronology of events since February 11, when the claimants prepared to leave for Sabah from the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi.
On Monday, political analysts said it was about time the Philippine government brought the Sabah issue to the United Nations for arbitration.
“Renewed government effort is the only way to stop the followers of the Sultan of Sulu from taking up arms and invading Sabah to press their claim,” Ernesto Maceda, who is running for senator in the May 13 election, was quoted as saying by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
For his part, law professor Harry Roque, citing international law, said it should be the Philippine government, not the Sultanate of Sulu, which should be pressing the Sabah claim before the UN.
Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, the crown prince of Sulu and brother to Jamalul Kiram, said the heirs have been disgruntled and feeling left out when the Philippine government signed a peace accord late last year with Moro rebels in Mindanao without considering their claim to Sabah.
Rajah Mudah, who is also the leader of the armed Filipinos who are now holed up in Sabah, said their claim should have been and would continue to be an “integral” part of any peace agreements that Manila had signed and would be signing with the Muslim minority groups in Mindanao.
Experts said the standoff continues to endanger the Malaysian-brokered peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that they signed 15 years after the first negotiation. The agreement was seen to end decades of hostilities between state forces and Muslim rebels in Mindanao, the Philippines’ second-largest island and home to Muslim minority.