Sulu Sultanate Bares Tougher New Stance on Sabah Claim

SULU Sultan Jamalul Kiram III’s spokesman Engr. Abraham Idjirani met in a 3-hour dialogue last April 29 with key members of the Interreligious Solidarity for Peace (ISP) at the Peace and Development Resource Center of the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance, Inc. (ZABIDA) located in Suterville, Zamboanga City.

ISP, whose secretariat is Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), hosted the event in line with its top advocacy of promoting peaceful resolution of armed conflicts and various forms of violence occurring in Mindanao or involving its populace. Since early February, an initial of over 200 followers of the Sulu Sultanate Royal Security Forces have been engaged in an armed stand-off with Malaysian authorities in Sabah over the sultanate’s claim of ownership of North Borneo, which became a part of the Malaysian federation since 1963 when the nation was incorporated. The claim is locked in historical, political and legal complications, but an apparent majority of Filipinos today support that claim.

In the course of the dialogue, Idjirani revealed that the sultanate’s goal on the Sabah question involves four points: 1) For the Sultan of Sulu to be recognized as also the Sultan of Sabah; 2) For the recognition of the ancestral rights of the Sulu Sultanate over Sabah; 3) For Malaysia to enter into a wealth- and power-sharing agreement on Sabah with the Sultanate; and, 4) For Malaysia to increase its rental and royalty payment to the Sultanate. These demands, Idjirani said, were adopted after the armed clashes erupted in Lahad Datu. Together they represent a radical departure from the previous softer position of the Sultanate calling for peaceful dialogue with Malaysia with mediation by third parties like the United Nations.

One reason why the Sultanate is rallying national support from predominantly Christian Filipinos for its claim is because 25 percent of Sabahans are Christians, Idjirani said.

ISP chief convenor and PAZ president Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF said towards the end of the dialogue that the interfaith association is deeply concerned with the Sabah crisis because it intersects with the Mindanao peace process, whose evolving Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro seems to overlook the important historical and political interest of a sector like the Sulu Sultanate’s. The bottomline of the issue, he said, is the well-being of the residents of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the areas the Sultanate says constitute its territory, in the context of all-around, equitable justice and peace and human rights.

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