CONCERNED civil society groups and individuals in Zamboanga City met on March 2 to join hands to urge for the peaceful resolution of the 3-week old armed conflict in Sabah between loyalists of the Sultanate of Sulu and Malaysian police and military.
The gathering was dubbed as “Forum on Sabah Claim” and was sponsored by the Interreligious Solidarity for Peace (ISP) and Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) and was held at the Universidad de Zamboanga auditorium.
ISP chief convenor and PAZ president Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF warned that failure to curb the bloody conflict could impact negatively on the hard-earned gains in the present peace process in Mindanao. Unmitigated and protracted clashes in Sabah, he said, could lead to the deadly involvement of other forces who are opposed to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Two resource speakers keynoted the forum. Datu Albi Julkarnain gave a talk on “Closer Look at the History of the Sultanate of Sulu”. He is the chairman of the sultanate’s Regency Council.
Western Mindanao State University law professor Atty. Meltino Jaujan Sibulan discussed “The Legal Implications of the Claims on Sabah by the Sultanate of Sulu”. He is the legal counsel of the “United Tausug People of the State of Sultanate of Sulu Darul Islam”.
During the open forum facilitated by Dr. Grace Rebollos, PAZ vice-president, Atty. Sibulan denounced the disproportionate use of military force by Malaysia against the small band of Sultanate loyalists, an act he called a “genocide”. He alleged that the Sultanate has taken its Sabah claim in its hands after decades of failure by the Philippine government to intervene in its favor on the issue. He further alleged that the exclusion of the Sultanate from the ongoing peace process also triggered the decision to send the loyalists to Lahad Datu almost a month ago.
About a hundred CSOs in the Philippines and Malaysia have signed a manifesto being circulated online urging the Malaysian and Philippine governments as well as the Sulu sultanate to “Take immediate steps to end the use of violence and to engage in dialogue with all stakeholders to resolve the crisis peacefully.”
“We the CSOs, together with all individuals, organizations and networks, urgently call upon President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak of Malaysia and Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, to disavow all forms of violence, and instead supports dialogue as the primary mechanism for a resolution to the siege,” they stressed in the manifesto.
They also called on the protagonists to “Immediately declare a HUMANITARIAN CEASEFIRE so that agencies concerned can take immediate measures to ensure the safety of women, children, elderly and other vulnerable persons in the affected area. And provide ‘safe zones’ where humanitarian organizations and relevant agencies can install facilities to be accessed by those who are injured and require immediate medical care.”
Dozens of the loyalists, Malaysian personnel and civilians have been reported killed or arrested since the crisis broke out. The violence has spread from Lahad Datu to other communities, too. Some Filipino expatriates living or working in Sabah have also been evacuating back to the Philippines. A humanitarian crisis is also developing in Tawi-Tawi province, whose traders buy most of their commodities from Sabah, because of border naval blockades.