Lahad Datu-type incidents Putrajaya’s ‘Achilles Heel’ 

Malaysia, the Filipinos know, is a paper tiger with two submarines in Sabah which couldn’t detect them. They know that Malayans will not fight to defend or keep Sabah. 

Joe Fernandez

The Lahad Datu standoff by Sulu intruders on sovereignty and property rights in Sabah recalls that Malaysia, in 1963, was touted by the British, Malayan and Singapore Governments as an equal partnership of Sabah, Sarawak, Malaya, Singapore and Brunei.

That’s far from being the case today.

The past has caught up with Putrajaya in the present to haunt its future in Sabah.

There’s no way that Malaysia can take on the Sulu people and other illegal immigrants in Sabah and win as the experience of Manila in the Philippines south shows. Lahad Datu-type incidents in Sabah, if they recur or keep recurring, will be Putrajaya’s Achilles Heel in Sabah. Malaysia, the Filipinos know, is a paper tiger with two submarines in Sabah which couldn’t detect them. They know that Malayans will not fight to defend or keep Sabah. But more on the security aspects in a while.

First, a little walk down memory lane in connecting the dots which has led up to this High Noon moment in Lahad Datu.

The Brunei Sultan rejected the idea of Malaysia at the 11th hour but did not, at the same time, stand up for Sabah and Sarawak.

Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965 but Sabah and Sarawak, the facilitators, were not allowed to exit in turn. The Singapore Government maintained a discreet silence on the issue after momentarily toying with the idea of another Federation with Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei to replace Malaysia. This idea is still worth pursuing since Malaysia has been beaten on all counts by Singapore. It had to virtually surrender the Iskandar Development Region in southeast Johore to the city state and island republic.

Sabah, in eventually restoring its independence of 31 Aug, 1963, cannot include the illegal immigrants already in this Nation in Borneo. The illegal immigrants, whether from Sulu or elsewhere, entered Sabah after independence.

In any case, Lahad Datu must not mean getting into rhetoric, polemics and creating issues in conflict and/or issues in endless conflict on Sabah.

We need to be cut and dried to get solutions and not be side-tracked by the politics of distraction and disruption.


No referendum in Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, Malaya

The fewer issues there are, and/or fewer irrelevant and immaterial matters, the better towards an eventual solution.

Again, and therefore, the focus in the wake of Lahad Datu should be on the thrust of the thesis statement on Sovereignty, property rights of foreigners and Referendum:

(1) the fact that the Sovereignty of Sabah rests with its people. This Sovereignty, to belabour the point, has never been transferred to Brunei, Sulu, Spain, Britain, the Philippines or Malaysia;

(2) the defunct Sulu Sultan had no and has no private or public property rights to Sabah or to parts of Sabah and/or no private property rights in Sabah or in parts of Sabah. The Brunei and Sulu sultanates extorting tolls from the terrified traffic along the waterways in northern and eastern Sabah, by no means confers, property rights or territorial rights on the extortionists; and

(3) the fact that no Referendum was held in Sabah, or for that matter in Sarawak, Malaya or Brunei, on Malaysia.

The issue is clear: Sabah’s independence of 31 Aug, 1963 remains as the sole point of self-determination and should be respected and honoured by All, the UN, the UN Security Council and the international community. The pretenders to the throne of defunct Sulu Sultanate should take note as well.

Sabah needs to restore this independence if Malaysia cannot be salvaged as an equal partnership of Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya. This salvaging must be subject to separate Referendums on Malaysia — and excluding the illegal immigrants — in Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya. Again, the illegal immigrants from Sulu in Sabah cannot be part of this process, claim or no claim.


Lahad Datu-type incidents can degenerate into “civil war”

The illegal immigrants in Sabah whether from Sulu or elsewhere, cannot too be part of any decision to restore the nation’s independence in the event that Malaysia cannot be salvaged by Referendum.

They would have to return to their home countries assisted by the UN and return, if they wish, with valid travel papers issued by their respective countries.

None of the illegal immigrants in Sabah can remain in this Borneo Nation as demanded by the intruders involved in the on-going Lahad Datu standoff on behalf of the illegal immigrants from Sulu.

Still, the Lahad Datu stand-off or any subsequent similar incident can easily degenerate into a Syria-style “civil war” situation — albeit between illegals and locals — where the UN and Malaysia will be helpless. The only locals who will join the illegal immigrants are the Suluk and Bajau, already screaming marginalisation and disenfranchisement by the continuing influx in particular of the non-Sulu illegal immigrants.

If the Moros can fight the Philippines Gov’t for so long, the intruders from Sulu can take up arms against Sabah as well.


Security situation in Philippine south, Thai south, Sabah similar

It may be payback time as well for Manila in Sabah on another dimension, for the long- running Muslim rebellion in the Philippine south, unless Putrajaya backs the Philippines Government in its dispute with China on the Spratly islands, a large part of which belongs to Sulu and the Sulu-claimed areas in Sabah.

Can Malaysia defend Sabah when the rebels in the Philippines south have all along been using this Nation as a safe haven for arms and men with Putrajaya looking the other way in a wink-wink relationship with them, ostensibly in the interests of “Muslim brotherhood”.

The security situation in the Philippines south parallels that in the Thai south and by extension in Sabah.

No member state of the UN, under its Charter, can engage in acts — either covertly or overtly — which compromise the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another member state of the world organisation for peace and security.

What if the Sulu people seize parts of Sabah, for a start, by force? When push comes to shove, people who have nothing to lose are capable of anything. We live in desperate times!

The intruders have already seized, for all practical purposes, the village in Lahad Datu where the stand-off continues. And yet the Police have seen it fit to keep the Army out of the picture to keep up pretences on the security situation. The Police have no business taking on armed foreigners invading the country.

No one thinks that they will back down without bloodshed. Heaven forbid! They have already stated that they will not leave Sabah. They have probably stockpiled even more weapons all over Sabah to call the Suluks from among the illegal immigrants in Sabah to arms. They will probably be joined by mercenaries from among other illegal immigrants who already fear for their future in Sabah.


Muslims in Sabah, Sulu feel betrayed by Putrajaya

Again, it’s no secret that the long-running war against the Philippines Government was fuelled by arms and men available from safe havens in Sabah created by denying the Orang Asal the right to rule Sabah. During the Mustapha Government, the arms came from Libya’s Muammar Ghadafi. That’s why Manila had to eventually bring Putrajaya into the peace process in the Philippine south and as a facilitator.

Sulu, like the local Suluks and Bajau in Sabah, obviously now feel betrayed rightly or wrongly by Putrajaya.

How will the gentle-natured Sabahans defend themselves against the battle-hardened people of Sulu?

The authorities should conduct a state-wide search for illegal weapons held by foreigners in Sabah.


Better safe than sorry!

The Orang Asal in particular should form vigilante groups to protect their villages in defending the Sovereignty of Sabah and to emphasise that the defunct Sulu Sultanate had no and has no private property rights to Sabah or parts of Sabah and/or private property rights in Sabah or in parts of Sabah. It’s unlikely that the local Suluk and Bajau would be party to any Sulu venture into Orang Asal territory in the Sabah High Country. This is the territory that the Brunei and Sulu sultans avoided like the plague during their plundering days along the northern and eastern coasts.

Even so, Sabahans should not take things for granted. They cannot rely too much either on Putrajaya which has failed to protect their Nation since Malaysia in 1963. There are no guarantees that Malaysia’s token forces in Sabah would not flee with their tails between their legs to Sarawak for dear life. This is an appalling failure of intelligence and blind trust and faith in the rebels in the Philippines.

Better safe than sorry!

The current security situation in Sabah was brought about in part by the revelations at the on-going Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI), not only the peace agreement in the Philippines south leaving out the Sulu so-called claimants to Sabah, as alleged in the Manila press citing apologists for one of the claimants to the defunct Sulu Sultanship and who is involved in the Lahad Datu standoff in between dialysis sessions in Manila, reportedly paid for by the Philippines Government. The RCI was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

We will get the true picture when the Police fail in Lahad Datu and the Army moves in.


Nothing could be more telling!

The Police, it must be noted, were prepared to employ brute force against unarmed and peaceful people, who wanted to witness Hindraf Makkal Sakthi handing over a Memorandum Seeking Legal Aid to the British High Commission on 25 Nov, 2007, against participants in the peaceful mid-Feb 2008 Rose Rally in Putrajaya and against the participants in the various Bersih rallies.

In Lahad Datu, they are humbling themselves on bended knees, cringing and grovelling, and speaking in soft voices and whispers with the armed intruders in Lahad Datu, in literally begging and imploring them teary-eyed to return to the nearby Sulu Islands in the Philippines. Probably, Putrajaya will throw in loads of cash as well from Petronas for the intruders.

Nothing could be more telling.

The dangerous precedent in Lahad Datu will create more similar situations in Sabah in the near future for Putrajaya which has long ridden the Sulu tiger in the Philippines south and Sabah. The Sulu intruders are through with kidnapping ordinary Sabahans for ransom. The Sulu tiger will eventually return with Putrajaya inside it and a smile on its face.


Joe Fernandez is a mature student of law and an educationist, among others, who loves to write especially Submissions for Clients wishing to Act in Person. He feels compelled, as a semi-retired journalist, to put pen to paper — or rather the fingers to the computer keyboard — whenever something doesn’t quite jell with his weltanschauung (worldview). He shuttles between points in the Golden Heart of Borneo formed by the Sabah west coast, Labuan, Brunei, northern Sarawak and the watershed region in Borneo where three nations meet.