MANILA, Philippines — They came to Sabah in peace and will not start fighting. But they are ready to die for their cause.
Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo stressed this when asked if his men will yield to pressures from Malaysia during a press conference at the Blue Mosque in Taguig yesterday.
He was asked by the Manila Bulletin on his “final, final, final stand” on Malaysia’s pressure to let his younger brother Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the crown prince, to stand down and leave Lahad Datu, Sabah.
The crown prince and hundreds of his men, including members of the sultan’s royal security forces, occupied a village in Tanduao, Lahad Datu, more than 10 days ago.
Mounting pressures from the Malaysian and Philippine governments have not deterred the Moros from their stand to stay on in their “homeland.”
“My final, final, final stand, which does not only come from me, but from those who are there (Sabah), they said, do or die,” Kiram III said.
Sultan Bantilan Kiram, another younger brother of the sultan, echoed his sibling’s statements about the group’s determination not to withdraw.
Kiram III said his brother and his companions are in their homeland, so why should they leave.
He said that he made it clear to his followers who have guns to point them toward the ground to that they did not go there to provoke violence.
Sultan Bantilan Kiram said they are going to hold a consultation shortly with other members of ruling family to discuss more urgent matters regarding the issue.
Madam Hadja Celia Kiram III said the next step is to bring the Sulu sultanate’s Sabah claim to the international community – the United Nations or the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Also in the press conference were Almarin Tillah, former governor of Tawi-Tawi and policy adviser of Sultan Esmail Kiram; Dr. Abdurahman Amin, who is with the convenors of the Friday consultation at the Blue Mosque.
Amin read the convenors’ three-page statement, saying the Muslim communities in Metro Manila, in Luzon, and in Mindanao were hurt by Malacañang’s stand on the Sabah standoff.
While the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III “is too proud” of its good governance policy, it is “complacent to the sentiments of the constituency as if they are not part of the Philippines,” the convenors said.
They accused the administration of taking Malaysia’s side and made “wild allegations” about sabotaging the government negotiation with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
On the other hand, Madam Kiram III said the royal family is thankful to the President for forming a group to look deeply into the Sabah claim of the sultanate.
She confirmed that Aquino had already sent emissaries to the family to discuss the crisis.
The convenors’ statement also called attention to the administration for what they described as “chilling effect” on the Moro tribes living in Sabah, such as Tausug, Sama, Badjao, Yakan, and Mapun, who have become Malaysian citizens as well as those “economic” refugees on the island.
They called for restraint from the sultanate and Malaysia, saying the entire Muslim community in the Philippines are “deeply concerned.”
“We are calling for ‘direct dialogue’ between the opposing sides without prior conditions” to be held in a neutral ground.
They also urged the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Indonesia’s Muhammadiyah, “to intervene peacefully and find a win-win solution that shall be sustainable.”
MNLF Seeks UN Help
As this developed, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) appealed to the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to Sabah to prevent bloodshed.
News reports had it that Malaysia had handed down a Feb. 22 deadline for the men of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo to stand down and leave.
Malaysian security forces have also imposed a food embargo on the Moros from Mindanao, cutting off their food supply since Wednesday.
As the high-tension drama continues to unravel, MNLF Central Committee Chairman and founder Prof. Dr. Nur P. Misuari convened “over 2,000 (MNLF) leaders” from around the country at the “MNLF Leadership Meeting” last Feb. 21.
After the meeting the participants issued Resolutions Nos. 01, 02, 03.
Prof. Mashur Ghalib bin Jundam, who chairs the MNLF’s education committee, sent copies of the documents to the Manila Bulletin.
Jundam, a close ally of Misuari, said “Maas” (an endearing term meaning “Old Man” for Misuari) conducted the meeting to discuss and address issues and concerns facing the Bangsamoro people.
He said the first resolution is called “Resolution on the Sabah Stand-off between the Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and the Malaysian Armed Forces.”
In the document, the MNLF leaders expressed a series of appeals to the United Nations, Malaysian government, and the Malaysian prime minister.
At the same time, the participants called on the Malaysian government to settle the Sabah “problem in a fraternal way” to prevent hostility and bloodshed.
Another appeal was also issued to Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak of Malaysia, asking him to deal with the problem calmly and insure full respect for the human rights.
Meanwhile, talks involving the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu are now underway in hopes of putting a peaceful resolution to the ongoing standoff in the state of Borneo, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Albert del Rosario revealed.
The standoff is now on its second week after group of Filipinos claiming ties with the Royal Army of Sulu arrived in the town of Lahad Datu in Sabah (formerly Borneo) last February 12 to reclaim their ancestral territory. (With a report from Ellson A. Quismorio)