Insurgents and groups calling for Sabah’s autonomy may further “inflame” the ongoing conflict in the area between Malaysian authorities and followers of the Sulu sultanate asserting their claim in the territory, the head of a think tank said Wednesday.
Amina Rasul-Bernardo, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), warned that the situation in Sabah may encourage some disgruntled residents to respond to calls from some groups to push for the area’s political independence.
“Sinasabi ng mga Sabahans, lahat kontrolado, gaya rin ng Mindanao at Manila, lahat kontrolado ng Kuala Lumpur. Na ‘yung benefits ng kanilang resources, hindi naman nila natitikman… Ano ang possibility na yung mga namamaltrato, yung mga dinedeport, na kahit na small percentage of that, ay tumugon dito sa issue na siguro dapat may independence na tayo?” Rasul-Bernardo said in an interview over GMA News’ “News To Go.”
She added that such a situation may lead to “destabilization” in the region, which she said has been “very peaceful” for the past years.
The Islamic sultanate, which is based in Mindanao, once controlled parts of Borneo. The sultanate’s heirs have been receiving a nominal yearly compensation package from Malaysia under a long-standing agreement for possession of Sabah.
Sabah is currently one of Malaysia’s 13 member-states. Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy, with a ceremonial King and a prime minister as head of the government.
In the same television interview, Rasul-Bernardo also expressed fears that liberation fronts and insurgent groups who want to reinforce members of the Sulu sultanate may further complicate the Sabah conflict.
An Agence France-Presse report earlier quoted an official of the Moro National Liberation Front as saying that a number of its fighters have sailed to Sabah to aid followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in battling Malaysian security forces.
“A report saying that thousands of Kiram’s followers have been able to slip through Sabah borders is extremely doubtful,” Navy spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Geral Fabic said in a statement issued last week.
Nonetheless, Rasul-Bernardo said she does not believe blockades set up by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia can deter these groups from entering Sabah.
Rasul likewise said that she thinks politics in both the Philippines and Malaysia, where polls will be held in the coming months, had a huge effect on the Sabah conflict.
“It was only right to think na maraming sumasakay both sa Malaysian and Philippine sides… You can see na talagang pinapalaki, lumiliyab ngayon ‘yung issue maybe because of the politics here and the politics in Malaysia,” she said. — with Andreo Calonzo/RSJ, GMA News