March 6, 2013
Lahad Datu Incursion: Politics At the Expense of Lives
by Jahabar Sadiq
Editor, The Malaysian Insider
A bid to undermine Philippine President Benigno Aquino in the republic’s mid-term elections in May and control the bicameral legislature is said to be a reason for the Sulu Sultanate’s incursion of Sabah, say sources.
The Malaysian Insider understands Philippine politicians want to put pressure on Aquino ahead of the 2016 presidential elections to get a pardon for his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is under house arrest for electoral sabotage.
Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who ordered the armed incursion to claim Sabah last month, ran as a senator as part of Arroyo’s Team Unity in the country’s 2007 elections. He lost by some 800 votes.
“Some want to undermine Aquino in the mid-term legislative elections to enable them to control of the Senate and the House before the 2016 presidential election.
“This will ensure that Arroyo will get pardoned later,” a diplomatic corps source told The Malaysian Insider.
Several political commentators have already taken Aquino to task over Malacanang Palace’s handling of the situation, saying the first-term president was not backing the sultanate’s claim to their ancestral lands.
“This is just pure politics and the Sulu claim is also politics,” said a source based in the Philippines.
Aquino has said Manila will look into the claim for Sabah, but said the Sulu Sultan and his followers should respect Malaysian law and not carry out the incursion. He also said the Philippines did not allow private armies, ensuring the so-called Royal Sulu Sultanate Army was illegal.
Coincidentally, Putrajaya had also blamed Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of being in contact with the Sulu royalty before Jamalul Kiram’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, landed in Lahad Datu with armed followers on February 9.
But the Filipino militants have denied any links with the opposition in Malaysia, where a general election is due to be held before end June.
Malaysian security forces moved in yesterday to end the standoff with Agbimuddin Kiram’s group holed up in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu. Fighter jets screamed through the air as artillery pounded the village before soldiers moved in to flush out the militants.
Putrajaya has said that the operation codenamed “Ops Daulat” was a success and no casualties reported, but added the forces were still looking for the militants.
Eight Malaysian policemen had died earlier in two skirmishes that also killed 20 militants in Semporna and Lahad Datu, both areas with large population of Sulu people who are either Malaysian or Philippine citizens.
However, they are said to owe their allegiance to the sultanate, which has five claimants to the throne. Malaysia still pays RM5,000 a year to the sultanate for the ancestral lands first leased to the North Borneo Company in the 19th century.
Influential Philippine news portal Rappler.com reported that before his senatorial bid, Jamalul Kiram was a member of the Legislative and Executive Advisory Council (LEDAC) on the Sabah Claim and was Arroyo’s Presidential Adviser on Muslim Royalties Concern.
In the 2007 elections, Jamalul Kiram finished 26th out of 37 candidates. He garnered 2.49 million votes, or 8.4 per cent of the votes cast for all senators. But he lost to then re-electionist senator Edgardo Angara by more than 800 votes. The 74-year-old self-styled sultan got 546,670 votes, while Angara got 547,507.
A total of 18,022 national and local posts, including 12 senatorships, will be decided in this year’s elections. The Philippine Senate has 24 members who serve six year terms.