Take Sabah Away, Mr Sulu

When the late Gene Roddenderry wanted an Asian character to be part of the crew of the Federation Starship USS Enterprise, he wanted a surname that does not represent any particular nation. George Takei, an actor in the world-renowned TV show recalled how Roddenderry opened up a map, looked at Asia and saw the Sulu Sea and exclaimed:

“Ah! The waters of that sea touch all shores!”

That was how the character Hikaru Sulu got his name.

And how true it is that the Sulu Sea has now touched on the raw and sensitive parts of the shores of both Malaysia and the Philippines.

I wrote some days back on the current stand-off in Lahad Datu and it is today Day 11th since a group of armed men claiming to represent the Sultan of Sulu landed in Lahad Datu, Sabah in Malaysia, asking for the return of Sabah to the Sultanate of Sulu.  When the Philippines government worked a peace deal with the Muslims in the country’s deep south via the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, the Muslims and their Filipino brethren embraced it as finally a way forward after decades of impasse.  The framework allows for the creation of a single and autonomous entity called Bangsamoro replacing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

The framework agreement was signed at the Malacanang Palace on 15th October 2012 in the presence of President Beningno Aquino III of the Philippines; Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia; and Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Countries.

Absent was Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front. Nur Misuari had called the BFA irrelevant claiming it was cloned by President Aquino and Najib Razak.  The MILF is a breakaway group that was part of the MNLF back in the 1970s.  Disagreement in the way Nur Misuari handled issues led to the group breaking away.

Also absent was the Sultan of Sulu.  The alienation of the Sultan probably led to the Lahad Datu stand-off.  The Sultan admitted to have been prompted by the alienation to send some 400 men across the sea to Sabah, as the BFA had seen not only improvements in the lives of the Bangsamoro that he played no role in, but also in the intimacy between the Philippines and Malaysia as neighbours.  And as mentioned in my previous posting on this issue, Nur Misuari’s MNLF supports the Sultan.  And this recent posture is to display its relevance again to the Moro people.

But why was the Sultan alienated in the peace process?  Simple – there are now ten people who claim the throne.  The Philippines government cannot be dealing with ten different Sultans with ten different basic ideas on how to bring peace and development to the Bangsamoro.  Nur Misuari himself did not attend the signing as he fears that there is an ongoing warrant issued for his arrest for waging war against the Philippines government.

As the militants are bogged down into their second week in Lahad Datu surrounded by the Malaysian security forces, Nur Misuari was quick to threaten Malaysia saying “if one drop of blood is spilled then we will be forced to come to their aid.”  Nur Misuari also said the following:

This should be handled by cooler heads…that it would also be good to await the Malaysian general election to see who will be the new Prime Minister…

And who has Nur Misuari implied by that?  None other than his old friend, Anwar Ibrahim.  It was reported by Reuters and confirmed by Philippine military sources that Anwar had traveled and met Nur Misuari to discuss land claims in Sabah, a few months before the Lahad Datu incident happened.  Anwar has vehemently denied this, but the photo below shows otherwise:

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Now, Anwar Ibrahim seems a dubious character himself. In a recent open letter, his former legal counsel member, Yuktes Vijay, asked about the former’s links to Islamic fundamentalists as well as known terrorists. Therefore, it is not impossible for him to have met Nur Misuari to discuss the matter, and then deny it like he denied ever being conferred the title of Huguan Siou although people from his own political party had announced that on Facebook, complemented by photos of him.

The Philippines government has sent six naval vessels to stop people from the Moro region from entering Malaysian waters as this stand-off continues.  And although the Malaysian government has an upperhand and the firepower to end this stand-off, it is probably of best interest to the Bangsamoro, the government of the Philippines as well as Malaysia, to not allow anything to jeopardise the BFA that is still in its infancy.  Perhaps, the MILF and supporters of the BFA in the Moro region should lend their support to both governments to try end this madness.

In the meantime, while treading gently on this issue, both governments should get to the root of this and probe Anwar Ibrahim’s role in facilitating or prompting this incident.  For it would not have happened had it not been for someone from the Malaysian side advocating and encouraging it to happen.  It is something close to Sabah, and we know Sabah is being wooed by Anwar’s party.  Get the support of the Kadazan-Dusun-Murut community by being recognised as their Paramount Leader (Huguan Siou), you will get support from the Christians in the west side of Sabah.  Get a deal with the Tausugs in Sulu, you will get support from the Muslims especially in the eastern part of Sabah.

But at what cost?  That remains unanswered.  But maybe Gene Roddenderry would frown had he known the Sulu Sea is one of the volatile areas of the region.

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