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21 April 2024

Sulu heirs won’t budge on Sabah claim

By Correspondent

MANILA - It’s a “do or die” for the heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu, as “I believe we are right [and] this place belongs to us,” Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, crown prince of Sulu, told Radyo Inquirer 990 AM today. “We will stay.”

Rajah Muda, brother to Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, and his men are in a standoff with the Malaysian forces in the village of Tanduao, Lahad Datu town, in the Malaysian state of Sabah.

Tomorrow, the four-day extension to the deadline imposed by Malaysia for the Filipinos to leave Sabah peacefully expires, and, already, Rajah Muda and his men said they won’t budge, even if a Philippine vessel is on a standby to fetch them.

The heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu reportedly arrived in Sabah on February 9, to lay claim to Sabah on their own, but were discovered only on February 12. Reports on their number vary between 100 and 1,500. But reports from Tanduao said that there are only between 100 and 300 of them, about 30 of whom are armed heavily.

“I have already given a statement that my decision and the decision of my brother is final,” Rajah Muda said, rejecting the humanitarian vessel that the Philippine government had sent over to bring him and his men home.

Earlier, Philippine Defence Secretary Volaire Gazmin said the Sultan of Sulu might have enough reason to believe the legitimacy of his claim over the Malaysian state. But he was quick to point out that he did not agree by the means that the sultan and his men were staking their claim to Sabah.

The sultan has asked the United Nations to help his followers in Sabah, as they were running low on food and water, owing to the food blockade imposed by the Malaysian government. He also asked the help of Brunei for the peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Malaysia pays a token annual rent of 5,300 ringgit or 77,000 pesos (Dh6,943.42) to the Sultanate of Sulu as a “cession fee”. “So when one is paid, doesn’t one have a claim?” Gazmin had told reporters.

Formerly known as North Borneo, Sabah was part of the Sultanate of Brunei, which awarded it to the sultan of Sulu in 1658, as the latter had helped settle a civil war in Brunei. These facts are reportedly found in various historical records between 1473 and 1658.

The Philippines first made its claim to Sabah on behalf of the Sultanate of Sulu in 1962, before Sabah officially became a state of Malaysia. Sulu is an autonomous island-province in southern Philippines.

The heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu have accused the government of neglecting the country’s claim to Sabah when it signed a framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) late last year.

The Sulu sultan and his men have said that no peace agreements between the government and any Moro groups in Mindanao, the Philippines’ second-biggest island that’s predominantly Christian and home to Muslim minority, would prosper without considering the Sabah claim.

Political analysts and constitutional experts, on the other hand, have said that the Philippine government should bring the Sabah issue into arbitration at the UN.

The framework agreement is a vital step towards signing a formal peace accord between the government and the 1,200-strong MILF guerrillas after 15 years of negotiations, the latest of which are being brokered by Malaysia.

The agreement would install the Bangsamoro, which will address the peace and order situation as well as unemployment and underdevelopment in Mindanao.

(Home page image courtesy Shutterstock)