THE Malaysian government has been aggressively pursuing the signing of the peace pact between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for two reasons—its territorial hold on Sabah and the development of Liguasan Marsh in Mindanao, an area rich in gas reserves.
A book published by the Office of Strategic and Special Studies (OSS), the think tank of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), casts suspicion on Malaysia’s real motive for brokering peace between the two camps.
“Doubts by many a Filipino about Malaysia’s role have not been completely dispelled. They suspect that the Malaysians have been supporting Filipino Muslim separatist groups by funding and training their fighters and that brokering a peace agreement favoring them would ultimately favor Malaysia,” wrote University of the Philippines Political Science Prof. Jose Raymund Quilop and Cesar Pobr, in their book, In Assertion of Sovereignty.
The OSS said Malaysia and the MILF were a “tag team” in persuading Manila to giving in to the secessionist group’s demands. The MILF, the book said, was firm in having Malaysia as a peace broker.
Unlike the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has vowed to reclaim Sabah, the MILF has assumed a more flexible stand, mainly because Malaysia has been supporting the MILF’s fight.
“The Philippine standing claim over Sabah has been echoed by the MNLF. The MNLF, through its leader Nur Misuari, has expressed its vow to reclaim Sabah. It sees the peace process as a sell-out, with the MILF openly tolerating Malaysia’s sovereignty over Sabah,” the book said.
In February last year, armed followers of the late Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram 3rd occupied a town in Sabah, asserting the Sultanate’s claim on the territory. Kuala Lumpur drove the intruders out after a series of bloody clashes. Misuari, like Kiram and his followers, belong to the Tausug tribe of Muslim Filipinos.
The OSS, which has been providing insights on defense policies and strategies for decades, said Kuala Lumpur wanted a final peace deal with the MILF signed so it could supplant Manila’s 1996 pact with the MNLF.
It said that the MNLF and the Sulu Sultanate’s threat to reclaim Sabah “might have prompted Malaysia to take a more forward step to fast-track the conclusion of a GRP-MILF deal so that it could have precedence over the GRP-MNLF peace deal,” the book said.
Other excerpts from the military-sanctioned document claim that it is likely for the MILF to tap Malaysia as its partner in exploring the vast Liguasan Marsh in Central Mindanao.
Investment opportunities eyed
On Thursday, Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya said after the signing of the last annex in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, 13 Malaysian companies visited Cotabato province to explore investment opportunities in the southern region.
The Malaysian firms were the first international business groups to show interest in putting up businesses in Mindanao.
Malaya said the companies are looking at oil palm plantations, rubber manufacturing, halal foods, infrastructure development and light manufacturing as lucrative ventures.
Last month, the Philippine government and the MILF signed the Annex on Normalization that will lead to the decommissioning of the MILF’s armed force and private armies in the proposed Bangsamoro area. It was the last of the four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed on October 15, 2012.
“I think the focus of the visit would be consolidating peace and supporting the development of Mindanao. Malaysia has been the facilitator of the Mindanao peace process since 2001. In our view, they are invested in that process as we are in the Philippine government,” Malaya told reporters.
“They stayed the course and what is important now that there is a successful conclusion of the peace process is to transform the support and the goodwill from facilitation of the peace process into concrete economic support measure, so that in the words of the Prime Minister—‘the former freedom fighters can be transformed into productive farmers,’” Malaya said.
Arms supplies from Malaysian dealer
The book details how Malaysian funds, guns and ammunitions had found their way into MILF hands in the past.
Documents seized from an overrun MILF camp indicated that MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar wanted to buy weapons from a Malaysian arms dealer named Rim Kyu Do. On September 25, 1999, Rim was handed two checks in the amount of $1 million.
“This amount was to be part of a total $2,196,250 as advance payment for the purchase of what appeared to be a Swede-made MSM Type A midget submarine with a Swimmer Delivery Vehicle, SA-16 surface to air missiles and a 30 MM anti-tank cannon,” the book said.
The submarine could be used to transport MILF fighters around the Liguasan Marsh and to attack targets, including the Malampaya gas plant, it said.
The Malaysian arms dealer was able to deliver millions of bullets but the deal subsequently fell through. The government said the deal collapsed because Rim could have run away with the money, or the military offensive against the MILF made the delivery of arms difficult.
Sabah not included in talks
On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino 3rd flew to Malaysia for a two-day state visit.
Before leaving for Kuala Lumpur, the President said he would relay the Philippines’ thanks to Malaysia for helping the survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda. Aquino said Malaysia had given $1 million and sent medical and humanitarian assistance teams to the typhoon-ravaged areas.
He was also scheduled to sign a few agreements during his meeting with top Malaysian officials.
But the thorny Sabah issue is not on the agenda.
“We are confident the visit will promote our interests and deepen our ties with our neighbor while offering more opportunities for Filipinos,” Aquino said.
With him are Secretaries Albert del Rosario of Foreign Affairs, Cesar Purisima of Finance, Gregory Domingo of Trade, peace process adviser Teresita Deles, Lualhati Antonino of the Mindanao Development Authority, Julia Abad of the Presidential Management Staff, Herminio Coloma Jr. of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, and Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras.