Matters related to the standoff between some 300 armed Filipinos and Malaysian forces in Sabah are getting more complicated, as Kuala Lumpur is set to deport them and some political analysts are saying that Manila should elevate its claim over Sabah to the United Nations.
Published reports cannot even seem to get the exact number of Filipinos, who, Malaysia said, illegally entered Sabah last week, with the count varying from 100 to 1,000. The latest number is placed at 300, following reports of 200, then 1,000, and 100. But media reports have all said that most of these Filipinos are armed.
Datuk Seri Salleh Mat Rasid, director of the Bukit Aman Internal Security and Public Order, told reporters in Kota Kinabalu on Sunday that Malaysia is finalising the deportation process. “We are not entertaining any demands,” he said. “Actually, we’re not giving them any kind of recognition.”
Harry Roque, law professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and Ernesto Maceda, a senatorial candidate for the May 13 election and formerly Philippine ambassador to the United States, urged government to address the Sabah issue through arbitration at the UN.
“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,” Maceda was quoted today by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as saying.
Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, the crown prince of the southern Philippine autonomous island-province of Sulu, gathered his men on February 11 for their journey to Sabah through Tawi-Tawi, a Philippine province in southern Mindanao. They landed in the village of Tunduao, in Sabah’s Lahad Datu town, on February 12, not February 11 as earlier reported.
They cited the failure of President Benigno Aquino III to consider the Sabah claim when his administration signed a Framework Agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) late last year.
Rajah Mudah has said that the Sabah claim was supposed to be an “integral and essential” part of any peace accord with any armed group on Mindanao, the Philippines’ second-largest island that’s predominantly Christian and home to Muslim minority.
“Under international law, the Sultanate of Sulu should not have been the party pressing this claim, but the Philippine state,” the Inquirer also quoted Roque as saying. “This is something that the government seems to have forgotten. They have a right and they’re enforceable under international law.”
Rajah Mudah and his men have claimed that the ruling administration had ignored the Sabah claim when it signed the peace accord with MILF, since it was Malaysia that brokered their negotiations that succeeded after 15 years.
The agreement provides the establishment of the Bangsamoro, which will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), to become a bigger and wider autonomous region for the Muslims in Mindanao. The accord also ends decades of hostilities between government forces and the 120,000-strong Moro rebels.
ARMM was created in 1989 by then-President Ferdinand Marcos through Republic Act 6734, in a bid to quell the hostilities between the group of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and government forces that had escalated since the 1970s.
In the 1996, the government signed a peace agreement with the MNLF, a former Muslim secessionist group from where MILF had spun off. This agreement calls for the MNLF, led by its founder Nur Misuari, to co-operate in addressing peace and order problems in ARMM, in order to address poverty and underdevelopment in the region.
The Philippine government issued a statement over the weekend saying that its primary concern was the safety of Filipinos who have been in a standoff with Malaysian forces in Sabah.
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