Manila should drop the Sabah claim as appreciation
By: Mohd Jefri Radius
MALAYSIA'S role as mediator finally led to the memorable sealing of the historic peace pact between the Philippines Government and the Bangsa Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), after four decades of bloodshed, clashes or insurgency that has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the Southern Philippines. President Benigno Aquino III described the occasion as an opportunity " to finally achieve genuine and lastling peace", while the Chief of the MILF, Murad Ebrahim was quoted as saying "We have inked the most important document in the Chapter of our history".
A new region gifted with rich potential minerals deposits is being created as spelt out in the framework agreement for peace, vested with greater political powers and more control over resources compared to the existing semi- autonomous region.
The region will be known as "Bangsamoro, which literarily means Land of the Moros, who dominate majority of the population living within its territorial scope and extend. PM Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who led the Malaysian dignitaries including Sabah CM Datuk Seri Musa Aman and Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi to Manila recently to witness the signing of the peace pact expressed his gratitude posted in his One Malaysia Blog."
This belief in moderation, tolerance and understanding is something we hold dear in Malaysia and through the movement of moderation , we must continue to promote these values globally". (Daily Express Oct 20th, 2012). Sensibly, we could randomly guess the significance of Najib's message that rolled across the board for us to interpret, relevant to the historic signing ceremony recently.
We could not rule out the probability that a thought of settling the long standing issue of the Sabah Claim could have flashed in the minds of our premier with more feedback from our Minister of Foreign Affairs Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, as the momentum is right and timely for a deal of the issue, as the primary agenda to be discussed amicably and diplomatically at the round table, to seek the perennial settlement once and for all, judging from or considering Malaysia's significant and contributive roles as mediator in turning the peace visions and missions in The Bangsamoro Land into reality .
Retrospectively, the idea of the Sabah Annexation, which was officially endorsed by the Philippines Government during the Marcos Administration in 1968, was believed to have been strategically mooted and executed, purely based upon reference made to the literary contents of the Historical 1878 Deed, whereby the documented statement signed by the late Sultan of Sulu, Mohammed Jamalul Alam with Europeans Baron Overbeck and Alfred Dent, spelt out the historic sovereignty of the Sulu Sultanate over vast tract of territories, particularly on the Eastern Region of North Borneo.
It is rather amusing to note that The Base Line Act (Section 2446) of The Philippines Constitution reads "Sabah is part of The Republic of The Philippines", but under The United Nations Charter such provision is declared null and void. Sabah became part of the Federated States of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963 and has been enjoying the fruits of independence through Malaysia with tremendous development and robust economic growth especially under the current dynamic leadership of Musa.
Ironically, although Malaysia and the Philippines are two of the current nine members of the regional grouping of the Association of The South East Asian Nations (Asean), the sensitivity of this specific Filipino Bill, which was transcribed and documented in The Philippines Constitution, has yet to be revoked in the mutual or cordial interest and spirit of Asean. In the mid 1980s, the Marcos Administration revived the issue of the Sabah Claim by fixing certain terms and conditions to the Malaysian Government before the claim in question could be denounced or dropped publicly.
The demand for compensation in the form of monetary payment amounting to the tune of several billions in United States currency plus lengthy period of crude oil supplies to the Philippines, constituted two of the primary conditional terms.
However, the nature of the demand appeared substantially unreasonable, which the Malaysian Government could not accept. When Corazon Aquino replaced Marcos via People Power, the issue of the Sabah Claim along with the so-called demand was gradually grounded to a standstill until today. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) comprises four provinces - Magunindanao & Lanao Del Sur on the mainland, while the island provinces consist of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi with an extensive total land area of 11,996sq km and having an estimated population of more than three million peoples excluding those who had made massive exodus out of their homeland during the crux of the civil war in early '70's.
Sabah's long coastlines, stretching from the tip of Bengkoka peninsular at the northern region right down to Cowie Harbour within the proximity of Indonesian territorial border of Kalimantan, is where migrants managed to sneak silently or illegally into the State. Mustapha's Usno led Alliance State Government welcomed the string of unstoppable influx of political refugees from the Southern Philippines on humanitarian grounds without fixed conditions at that time.
Over the years, these so-called political refugees did not show willingness to return even though the wars and conflicts had largely stopped. The scenario worsened when a new breed of Filipinos classified as "Illegal Immigrants" infested every nook and corner of the State in the thousands in search of greener pasture, raising many eye brows and questions. Our patrolling coastal guards are unable to detect the aliens secret routes probably because they are unlike the US border guards. During the previous Regularisation Programme which ended on Aug 31, 1997, the Federal Special Task Force estimated Indonesian and Filipinos inclusive of their dependents to be more than 400,000. Lately, Federal Task Force for Sabah and Labuan Director Datuk Suhaimi Mohd Salleh said "Exact numbers of Filipinos in Sabah are hard to determine. In Sabah they have been categorised as Refugees, Legal Foreign Workers and Illegal Immigrants, a factor that makes it difficult to state their accurate population in the State.
Another factor is that there is no liaison office of the Philippines or their Consulate in Sabah to enable their citizens to obtain passports and other valid travel documents. (Daily Express October 19th, 2012.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman was quoted as saying that his government and the Sabah Government could work jointly to address the problem of the huge presence of Filipino refugees in Sabah.
"If there is no conflict and there are economic opportunities in this region, then the Bangsamoro brothers will be pushed to come back".
It is still fresh in the memories of many living Sabahans that Prof. Nur Masuri, former Governor of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) cum Chairman of MNLF while on a sojourn to Sabah way back in 1997, a year after he signed the previous peace plan with the Philippines government "Masuri had expected to call on the estimated 300,000 Filipinos immigrants in Sabah to return home as their resources would be required to rebuild the Southern Region when peace had been fully restored" (The New Straits Times October 28th 1997).
Ironically, Masuri's Visions and Missions did not materialise as clusters of problems, stigmas and conflicts of interest and opinions, begun to crop up without a solution in sight from within his own organisation leading to the creation of the MILF, led by Hasim Salamat and posing a stiff threat to Masuri's Peace Plan and Autonomy within the region.
The emergence of Abu Sayyaf, the most radical group operating within the region and well known for raising funds by kidnapping people for ransom was another obstacle to Mosuri's peace plan then.
Some believe it is linked to Al-Qaeda, the organisation formed by the late Osama Bin Laden.
Former Philippines President Gloria Macapagal once opposed Malaysia's massive repatriation of Filipino illegal immigrants from Sabah.
A seemingly pliant Tun Abdullah Badawi as PM succumbed to her wish and ordered ex-CM Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat to stop the demolition of squatter humans and repatriations. Which makes us wonder if our leaders truly care about Sabah.
Advance fine expectation gleamed from the hearts of several Malaysian leaders irrespective of their political ideologies once the historic peace pact was signed by the relevant parties.
CM Musa, who was among the State dignitaries invited by Najib to witness the signing of the peace treaty accord in Manila recently said "It is a reflection of the commitment towards ending decades of violence and give the Bangsamoro people a chance to live on their own land in peace "PKR Sabah Immigration and Electoral Reform Bureau Dr Chong Eng Leong said "All the estimated 84,000 IMM13 holders must surrender the yellow IMM13 cards and can be treated like other foreign migrants.
They should be issued with temporary entry visa before they are sent back to their country unless in possession of work permits."
The successful implementation of the peace treaty between the relevant parties augurs well for the Bangsamoro business leaders to tap the marketing prospects available locally and abroad via the integration platform of The Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines-East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).
Although the framework is in place, a transition commission has yet to be established to finalise more issues before the whole proposal will be wrapped up for a Referendum.
The Philippines Government had vested this task to The International Monitoring Team (IMT) which has been on peace mission since Sept, 2004, to continue monitoring the momentum of resolving the armed conflict between the rival parties in Mindanao.
Apart from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, England and Norway have participated in the IMT Joint Task Grouping.
Hence, Malaysia's rays of hope in seeking perennial settlement to the long stand Sabah Claim Issue is within sight, judging from our country's role as mediator that had fruitfully led to the signing of the historic treaty.
The wisdom of Horace tells us "The Beginning is the most important part of the work."