MANILA – A spokesperson for the Sultanate of Sulu on Wednesday denied accusations that the royal family and its followers are out to sabotage the peace efforts of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesperson of the sultanate, said the followers of Sultan Jamalaul Kiram III who have been holed up in Lahad Datu in the Malaysia's Sabah have history on their side in claiming the land.
"We completely deny that. That is unfounded, baseless. I think the president should not listen to anybody na nagsabi ng ganyan," Idjirani told radio dzMM.
"Ang Sabah issue ay iba sa MILF peace talks. Ang MILF peace talks ay internal problem. Ang Sabah issue, geopolitics ang involved dito."
Idjirani was reacting to the sources cited by The Philippine Star who said Sultan Jamalul Kiram III is not acting on his own in highlighting his family's claim over Sabah.
Among those being eyed by administration officials as instigators of Kiram are Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chieftain Nur Misuari, former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales and even the President’s uncle, former Tarlac congressman Jose "Peping" Cojuangco and his wife Margarita, who is running for senator under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Hundreds of supporters of the sultan trooped to the Malaysian territory last week, apparently as a result of the peace agreement between the Philippine government and separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The Bangsamoro framework agreement aims at creating an autonomous state seen as a solution to the decades-long conflict in the region.
The sultanate, however, felt alienated by the peace agreement.
"Our government relegated the issue into the backburner. Sa palagay namin, with regard to the issue of Sabah, parang wala ng interes ang national government," Idjirani said.
While denying involvement in the standoff, MNLF's Misuari expressed his support for the sultanate's followers, saying the land is rightfully owned by the sultanate and that their claim has historical justification.
The MNLF chieftain also claimed that Malaysia is brokering the peace deal between the government and the MILF in order to prevent the Sabah issue from being discussed anew.
5,300 ringgit rent
The Sabah territory was once controlled by the Sultanate of Sulu. It was given as a gift by the Sultanate of Brunei for Sulu's role in quelling a rebellion.
In 1878, the Sulu sultanate leased Sabah to the British North Borneo Company, which then transferred the territory to Malaysia in 1963.
The Philippine government in 1962, then under President Diosdado Macapagal, was given the legal authority by the sultanate to handle negotiations on the claims.
From then on Kuala Lumpur pays an annual rent of 5,300 ringgit ($1,600) to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu.
Idjirani, however, said the right given to the Philippine government to negotiate on its behalf was revoked in 1989 by Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.
"In view of the fact that the sultanate of Sulu [revoked] the special power of authority, wala ng karapatan ang gobyerno ng Pilipinas na i-pursue ang Sabah claim," he said.
Idjirani said the sultanate will not give up its claim. He said Sabah belongs to the sultanate, and by extension, to the Philippines.
"Ang Sabah ay atin. Sa katotohanan, bago mamatay ang kanilang tatay na si late Sultan Punjungan Kiram, na 32nd sultan of Sulu, ang habilin sa mga anak ay 'Sabah is not for sale. Sabah is the patrimony of the Filipino people,'" Idjirani said.
"Ang naapektuhan dito ay 'di lang pamilya ng Kiram kundi mga constituency ng sultanate sa Sulu archipelago dahil sa paniniwala nila ang Sabah ay pag-aangkin ng sultanate ng sulua at ng Pilipinas."
Idjirani said the armed followers have also been ordered not to instigate violence.
"Hindi ko ibig sabihin na the Muslim will not fight against Muslim, but in line with the preaching of Islam, ganoon ang mangyayari," he said.
"Pero kung gagawin nila na lulusubin ang kuta o community na kinaroroonan ng ating mga kapatid, the issue of Sabah will come out, at malalaman ng buong mundo kung sino ang may-ari at sinong 'di nagmamay-ari ng disputed territory."
Idjirani said Sultan Jamalul Kiram III yesterday sent a letter to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak requesting that the Malaysian government hold talks with the group in Sabah.
"Gusto rin nilang ma-resolve ang issue peacefully. Ngunit ang sabi ni Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, kailangan ditto (Sabah) mapag-usapan," Idjirani said, referring to the sultan's brother who led the group to Sabah.
"Ang sabi ni Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, 'let us talk, negotiate, para malaman natin ang parameters kung saan tayo mag-meet in between.'"