Whether the heirs of the sultanate of Sulu acted on their own to reclaim Sabah or were instigated by an external force to do so, one thing is certain, according to government intelligence sources: It was a business that proved too big for the heirs to handle on their own.
The sources said that the Philippine government’s policy on Sabah is to keep it in the back burner.
But apparently “some people” want to push it forward now. And why now, at this time, is one of the questions government intelligence is looking into.
The sources consistently mentioned three groups that appear to have taken advantage of the decision of the Kirams to pursue their Sabah claim.
“These are groups that wanted to ride on the Kirams’ pursuit with their own interests in mind,” one of the sources said.
Another source added: “There are a lot who can gain from this, not just in the Philippines but in Malaysia as well.”
These “external factors,” as an Inquirer source described the groups, are one small faction that is in it for the money, an anti-Aquino administration group, and the Malaysian political opposition.
“The Kirams planned to pursue their claim as early as last year. But they went to Lahad Datu also on the instigation of these groups,” the intelligence officer said.
The small group supposedly goaded the Kirams to ask Malaysia for a higher rent on Sabah. If Malaysia gives in, this small group would allegedly have a share of the increase.
The anti-administration group simply wants to discredit President Aquino and is using the peace process as a cause of disenchantment for the Kirams.
“All those who do not like P-Noy (the President’s nickname) have joined forces. This is one way to really test how this administration will react (to such an issue). Whatever happens in Malaysia, there will be a backlash on us,” one source said.
“In a way, whoever wants to disrupt the peace process or the gains of President Aquino has already won,” the source added.
The third group is allegedly the Malaysian political opposition, which is gearing up for general elections that may be called before June.
The intelligence officer said that one member of the Malaysian political opposition allied with Anwar Ibrahim was running for a post in Sabah.
“Apparently, this politician was one of those who spoke with the Kirams. He supposedly gave the opposition’s support to the Kirams’ claim to Sabah,” the source said.
The source also believed that in their meeting in November last year, the Kirams decided to “reclaim Sabah or at least ask for a compensation for Sabah that is commensurate to the land’s value today, and for the royal family to be given due recognition by Malaysia.”
But it is being Tausug that is keeping Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, his family, and their subjects stubbornly pressing their renewed claim to Sabah, even to the extent of defying President Aquino, one of the Inquirer sources said.
“This is the last stand of Sultan Jamalul. Being Tausug, they already gave their word they would pursue their claim. This is now do or die for them just to keep their word of honor,” the source, a senior military officer, told the Inquirer.
But for another security administrator analyzing the events of the past three weeks, the Kirams appear to be quite edgy of late.
“They are confused. The government is hopeful that we can buy more time, find a diplomatic way out,” the source said, referring to the government’s efforts to help settle the standoff between Malaysian security forces and an armed group led by Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, in Tanduao village in Lahad Datu town now in its third week.
The Inquirer’s sources are from the diplomatic and defense establishments. They asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak to journalists about their analysis of developments in the so-called journey home to Sabah of the Kirams.
The source said the Kirams decided to unite because they felt left out of the peace negotiations between the Aquino administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which signed a premilinary peace deal last October.
Calling gov’t attention
“The Kirams wanted to get the attention of the Philippine government,” the source said.
“For so many years, the family felt they have been exploited in politics. Sultan Jamalul was goaded to run for senator in 2010 but he lost. Then their letter to President Aquino (in 2010 before he assumed office) got lost,” the source said.
The source said the Kirams and their followers “conceived the details of the plan to go to Lahad Datu” in late January this year.
“In February, a small group of the Kirams’ followers left for Lahad Datu, followed by Raja Muda Agbimuddin,” the source said.
The estimated 70 firearms now in the hands of the group holed up in Tanduao are owned by residents in Lahad Datu, Tausug and Badjao holding Malaysian identification cards, the source said.
Malaysian security forces have encircled Agbimuddin’s group but are holding action, with the grace period for the group to leave having been extended three times and a fourth being requested by the Philippine government.
The Inquirer’s military source said the impasse continues because the Malaysians are extra careful in dealing with Agbimmudin’s group.
“They are all Muslims and they know that if there is violence, it would go on forever. There are 800,000 Filipinos in Sabah. It would be a huge problem in Sabah if violence erupts. The Malaysian security forces may end up dealing with guerrillas or a rido,” the source said, using a Muslim term for clan war.
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