On the current situation at Sabah, what is the view of MNLF as a body?
I was with the chairman recently and we discussed about this. I advised not to get himself embroiled in this problem, looking at the fact that Malaysia is part of OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) . Our agreements and our pending meetings are yet to be conducted. So officially I would say that MNLF does not have anything to do what this whole whatever the sultan did. We are not part of what is going out in Sabah. However, we cannot stop the Tausug to join with the sultan because they are part of the sultanate.
Who is the current chairman of MNLF?
I listen to chairman Nur Misuari.
How about Mr. Muslimin Sema?
Muslimin is a breakaway group from the MNLF and we have no control over him. He is not the chairman of MNLF. He is only the chairman of the council of 15.
So you are representing MNLF officially?
Yes yes yes.
Muslimin does not represent MNLF you say?
No, no. He does not. In fairness to everybody, there are some who claim they are MNLF. The chairman... recognised, and accepted by the people is Nur Misuari. Even the OIC accepts that. They reiterated this when I met with the secretary-general a few months back in Jakarta. He told me frankly that Misuari is still recognised as the legitimate representator of the Bangsamoro people in the OIC. And the MNLF is still the permanent observer in the OIC.
We understand that MNLF is currently split into three main factions?
For your information, the MNLF has so many factions. The first division is the one caused the formation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Another breakaway to form the Reformist Group. There are other smaller breakaways. The most recent is from the Council of 15(led by Muslimin). So it’s not only three.
How big is the MNLF you represent?
Well, our military contingent numbers is between 50,000 to 75,000. This not counting the civilian members.
So you are saying MNLF is not part of what is going on in Sabah right now?
We know what is going on. There are MNLF people residing in Lahad Datu, they are giving us info about what is developing there. (But) we have nothing to do with this standoff.
Are you saying MNLF has not been in contact with Jamalul Kiram III?
I will not say that. Because we also... the chairman is talking with the sultan Jamalul. But we are not involved in this standoff.
What is your view of the standoff? Are you in support or...?
Well, my view. I believe the sultanate of Sulu have the right to lay their claim in Sabah. Historically and even present documents will prove that the sultan has the right to claim Sabah. Now there are two school of thoughts on this claim. One is sovereign right and proprietary right. Now it is up to the court to decide whether the sultan has the sovereign right over the area given to him by the Sultan Brunei. Therefore it was a ceding of an area from a sovereign power to another sovereign power. Whether the perception that the sultan of sulu exercise that sovereign power, it is a matter yet to be decided.
So the MNLF recognise him, Jamalul Kiram III, as the rightful sultan?
Yes, yes of course! He is the sultan of the muslims of Sulu. Even the other sultanates recognises this.
Because we understand that there are several others also claiming to be the sultan?
There are many claimants, but now Jamalul is the reigning sultan of Sulu. Like in Malaysia, you have your king, now there are many princes, and a number of royal families. But they are in the waiting. They accept it now that sultan of Sulu is Jamalul.
So the statement that some members of MNLF is in Sabah, and that more are coming up to help, is that true?
I am here in the Philippines. I would not have any idea if they are...but I would not be surprised that there are already people planning to enter into the area into the area, through the back door. I do not know. But knowing the muslims for many years, I know they will not abandon their sultan even in this situation.
OK, so in a situation such as this, where you have Suluks and members who belong to MNLF supposedly going into Malaysia...are you condoning this... allowing them or you're saying you can’t go to Sabah?
We are not telling them not to go to Sabah. I leave it to their own decision, whether they like to go there or not. We do not want to get embroiled, officially, by participating in this stand off. Because truth of the matter is, we cannot prevent them from going there as they are part of the sultanate. I hope you understand that.
So you are neither condoning or stopping it?
Yes. We are neither condoning or supporting it. But we always believe it is the right of sultan of Sulu to articulate and redress his grievance. Because he feels that Malaysia has not been quite fair to him. We support him and we wish him good. But frankly, we would like this matter to be resolved. This does not only affect the MNLF, the sultanate, affect Republic of Philippines, it also affects Malaysia.
Therefore, I believe that war is not the answer to this kind of problem. So I think some cooler heads from your country and my country must come together to see how it can be resolve peacefully as soon as possible. Because the sultan is still a national of the Philippines.
So considering the international tradition in law, any national of any country finds himself in trouble, that country is mandated by constitution to protect its nationals wherever they are. But then this is going to end up Philippines against Malaysia. That we do not like to happen. That’s why Philippines and Malaysia should come together to find a solution to this impasse now happening in Lahad Datu.
While you are saying that Philippines should intervene. The fact of the matter is that the group did come into Sabah with weapons, are you in support such an act?
I will say that we will support any group that can resolve this problem peacefully. We believe that war cannot resolve this problem. Shooting each other cannot resolve this problem. Even if Malaysia is able to eliminate the Sultan and Raja Muda now in Malaysia. This scenario will continue because another sultan will come up. Those of us who can think of a peaceful solution should keep doing it right now.
Earlier you say you support the sultanate’s claim on Sabah. But do you support the manner in which it was done, where they came in with weapons?
Are you a muslim? No? If you are not a muslim, you would probably not know this. In the muslim world, anything that happens to them is the will of Allah, that is the belief. I cannot say that I will condemn the sultan for doing what he did. Because he feels that this is right. He feels that he can protect posterity, protect traditional, protect international agreement, it is a way to redress greviances. So if it has happened already, it is considered to be a will of Allah. Me, I am a Christian but I had studied the ways of the muslim, and I understand why they do things the way they do.
We do not condemn anybody. We do not condemn the sultan. We wish him the best.
There is a difference between ceasefire and the Malaysian government has responded by saying no ceasefire but only unconditional surrender. Which would you prefer: Ceasefire or total surrender by Jamalul?
What I want to say is that a problem of this magnitude calls not for personal or individual intervenors. It already demands of an international intervention, the OIC or the UN intervention.So maybe. This is beyond one person, it calls for collective intervention of all peace loving people in the world.
I would like to point out something though, it is wrong to call for the Sultan to ask him to surrender. You know that this will not happen in the muslim context. Whenever someone goes to war, one of his leg is already in the graveyard. You cannot ask a muslim to surrender. That is to be certain.
What is your call to the Philippines government and Malaysian government?
I am a little bit disgusted with government with not being commit to constitution. The pesident has called for the sultan to surrender, but the constitution mandates its president to protect its national whoever they are whatever crime they had committed. Until they are convicted they are perceived to be innocent. So in the case of the Sultan, we expected the same principle be applied.
So you are against any extradition of the sultan to Malaysia, is that correct?
No. That is wrong. Jamalul, if he has committed felony in Malaysia, should face the crime in Malaysia. But he must never be accused of a crime committed in Malaysia, in the Philippines. He has not committed any felony in Philippines. Before he left or after he left... so how can he be accused of any crime?
OK. So are you in support of an extradition if Malaysia calls for it?
Well, you have all the rights to ask for an extradition if you have an extradition treaty. We are not bound. It is only voluntary, and wrong, for the country to yield one national to be tried in another country where there is no extraditional treaty.
Didn’t Malaysia allow Nur Misuari to be tried in the Philippines?
I know, as to whether he was extradited, the records I have not seen, however the Malaysian authorities yielded Misuari to the Philippines. Now I am very disappointed because my president says he says file a case against the sultan.
How about the ‘terrorist’ label for the Sulu group in Sabah, do you agree with that?
You call the sultan a terrorist. He is yet to claim his right. Now you are telling me he is a terrorist. I cannot find any wisdom in calling him a terrorist. In calling him a terrorist. How can he be a terrorist when he is going to a place he considers his homeland, he considers his own. How can he be a terrorist?
What is your call to the Malaysian government?
Well I always think that a peaceful ways to resolve the problem. I believe war is not the answer. Killing is not the answer. We are a civilized society. We have to resolve our problems in a more civil way, acceptable to humanity.
The Malaysia’s defence of the situation, is that its authorities have said that she did attempt to negotiate with the intruders.
I understand, in the three weeks nobody has approached the sultan to discuss the matter. They were waiting of anyone from government to negotiate with them, but nobody did. Malaysia mounted an assault. The Philippines government say: surrender. It is not a way to resolve problems of this magnitude.
There was a report in a local newspaper today, quoting a secret Wikileaks cable that Nur Misuari harbours strong desire to reclaim Sabah. How true is this?
He has expressed that very clearly, that they would like to occupy their property in North Borneo. He has said that, yes.
And MNLF is with him on this?
Not exactly occupy, but to take North Borneo as a domain for the sultanate of Sulu.
And of the allegation that Nur Misuari is close friend to Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim?
Yes, we cannot deny that we are friends. When we were in Kuala Lumpur, we did meet, sometime after the peace agreement in Jakarta... around 1998-1999.
And of the allegation that the incursion may have been instigated by a Malaysian opposition party?
We have no knowledge of that. We have no access to any information of that sort. MNLF is not involved in the occupation of the Kiram family.
Teoh El Sen
Thu Mar 14 2013
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