Second of three parts
But before we get ahead of the story a historical perspective is necessary. While Mindanao has been the scene of sporadic clashes between bandits and the armed forces, the clashes only assumed critical proportions after the revival of the Sabah claim in the early sixties which internationalized the conflict. While in the past the violence was either internecine or involved Muslims or the armed forces, it was strictly a Filipino affair. This complicated the conflict, the solution of which became elevated into the international level.
Roots of secessionist movement
It all started when President Diosdado Macapagal recognized the Sabah claim of the Sulu Sultanate in the early sixties. This was considered an affront to Malaysia who has always claimed that it had executed a lease purchase of the territory from the Sultanate of Sulu and who annexed the same despite its pledge during the Manila Accord in 1962 to relegate the Sabah issue to the backburner.
Adamant about its claim and surrendering the sovereignty if not its proprietary rights to the Philippine government after the annexation by Malaysia, the latter began to undermine the now Philippine claim over the disputed territory by co-opting the Tausugs under Nur Misuari to fight for secession. Trained in Malaysia and armed to the teeth the secessionist group was to raise havoc in Mindanao from then to this day. This episode is captured by Wiki Leaks cables entitled “Libya used Sabah to arm PHL Moro rebels in the 1970s” which we summarize below:
Indeed Sabah had played a big role in the rise of the Muslim secessionist movement in Mindanao in the 1970s when it was used as conduit in the smuggling of arms from Libya to Southern Philippines, according to declassified cables published by WikiLeaks.
According to two cables, former Sabah Chief Minister Tun Mustafa facilitated the arms smuggling from Libya, then ruled by military dictator Muammar Gaddafi, to Mindanao to arm Moro rebels there in the hope that the rebellion would force the Philippines to abandon its claim to Sabah. A cable dated April 17, 1976 quoted then-Sabah Chief Minister Tun Fuad saying that it was “no secret” that his predecessor, Mustapha, supplied arms to Philippine guerrillas. “He said it was no secret that his predecessor, Former Chief Minister Tun Mustapha, had been running guns and money from Libya’s Gaddafi to the Philippine guerrillas,” according to the secret cable written by an unnamed American Embassy official in Kuala Lumpur.
The official reported that “assistance has been provided to Filipino Muslim insurgents directly by Mustapha, by Libya and perhaps other Arab countries through Mustapha, and there is evidence of GOM [Government of Malaysia] agencies collaborating with Mustapha.”
The official added that “Mustapha seemed to have resorted to arms smuggling following reports that then-Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos was training Muslims to invade Sabah, a disputed territory. This project failed and eventually led to killing of 68 to 200 young Moros on March 18, 1968, an event now known as the Jabidah massacre.”
“(Government of Malaysia’s) involvement in the southern Philippines was triggered by evidence in 1968-89 that President Marcos was training Muslims for infiltration of Sabah (The Jabidah Affair),” according to the cable.
The official also said the Sabah government would not stop arms smuggling unless Marcos give up the Sabah claim.
“The mission feels that while present Kuala Lumpur government may be less inclined to condone direct assistance to Moro rebels, the government of Malaysia (Mustapha) will not give up possibility of extending such assistance until president Marcos publicly and categorically abandons Philippine claim to Sabah,” according to the cable.
Upon finding out about Marcos’ plan to invade Sabah, Malaysia allegedly conspired with Moro secessionist groups to distract the Philippine from the Sabah claim, said Abraham Idjirani, spokesperson of the Jamalul Kiram III’s sultanate whose forces are fighting against Malaysian authorities in their stake for the land.
Sabah then instigated an “arms shipping” from Libya to Sulu, Palawan and Mindanao to arm a group of young Moro soldiers which came to be known as the Moro national liberation front (MNLF),” he added.
After MNLF was co-opted by the Philippine government, Sabah then veered their arms shipments to a breakaway group the Moro Islamic liberation front (MILF), Idjirani claimed. The MNLF signed a peace pact with the government in 1996. On the other hand, the MILF is now conducting exploratory talks on the peace process in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“The arm shipments were done to augment the power capacity of the MNLF in fighting against Philippine government. When they were co-opted by the Philippine government, they now encouraged the MILF to fight the Philippine government,” Idjirani said in a phone interview.
“It is Malaysia who created the Mindanao conflict so that the Philippine government could not focus their attention in pursuing their claim to Sabah,” he added.
Another cable that detailed a meeting between former Indonesian Ambassador Sjarif Thajeb in a meeting with US State Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Marshal Green mentioned reports that the Indonesian government invited Sabah’s Mustapha “in order to persuade him to stop supporting Muslim insurgents in southern Philippines.”
The Indonesian ambassador was then under the “view that the problem would be resolved if the government of the Philippines renounced its claim to Sabah, but observed that this view is not yet communicated to the GOP.”
The third part will come out in the PAFI Ambassadors Corner column on Saturday November 1.