When the British granted Malaysian independence in 1963, they allowed the Malaysians to keep North Borneo, which was Philippine territory leased by the Sultanate of Sulu to a British corporation. Malaysia quickly re-named the territory Sabah. Despite its supposed ownership of Sabah, Kuala Lumpur still pays rent to the sultanate today – clear proof that Malaysia does not own Sabah.
President Diosdado Macapagal tried to recover Sabah but Malaysia rigged a local plebiscite to make it appear that the locals preferred to be Malaysians. After President Ferdinand Marcos attempted to seize Sabah by arms, Malaysia financed a secessionist movement in Muslim Mindanao led by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). When the Armed Forces of the Philippines scuttled the MNLF’s plans, Malaysia supported a break-away group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
In 2008, the Malaysian-supported MILF signed the Bangsamoro Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The MOA-AD called for the creation of a Bangsamoro sub-state in violation of the Constitution, and without the prior approval of Congress. Stealth characterized the whole deal. Fortunately, a provincial government in Mindanao challenged the MOA-AD before the Supreme Court, which eventually declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional for being a tool for dismembering the Republic of the Philippines.
After that judicial repudiation, Malaysia and its MILF minions made a new deal with President Benigno Aquino III. A so-called Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (with secret annexes) was eventually signed. This agreement ultimately led to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now pending in Congress. Unlike the MOA-AD, the government was unable to keep the BBL a secret from the people and the media.
Although many Filipinos were already against the BBL in 2014, it was the Mamasapano massacre in January 2015 which made it both controversial and unpopular. The latest survey says only a mere 23 per cent of Filipinos nationwide approve of the BBL.
There is the additional obstacle from the Supreme Court. Considering the grounds upon which the Court nullified the MOA-AD, experts in Constitutional Law believe that the BBL will face the same fate as the MOA-AD.
In anticipation that the BBL will be diluted in Congress, or disallowed by the Supreme Court, Malaysia recently came out with new plans to undermine Philippine interests.
Recently, Malaysia ordered its officials to hold “exploratory talks” with the Sultanate of Sulu for the alleged purpose of resolving the Sabah issue. The agenda purportedly included a 15 percent share of the sultanate in the gross national product of Sabah, power sharing in Sabah, and the restoration of the Sultan of Sulu as the Sultan of Sabah – supposedly proposed by the sultanate. Malaysia seemed interested only in either increasing the annual rental it pays to the sultanate, or to pay the sultanate a lump sum for the outright purchase of Sabah.
Back in the 1970s, Kuala Lumpur allowed MNLF guerillas to train in Malaysian camps. The ties got strained when Malaysia sided with the MILF, a rival of the MNLF. Now, Malaysia says it wants to revive its alliance with the MNLF. In fact, Kuala Lumpur offered to the MNLF the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak to the so-called Bangsamoro Republik long envisioned by the MNLF, and which includes oil-rich Palawan on its map.
These activities being undertaken by Malaysia warrant the attention of the Philippine government.
Why is Malaysia engaged in backroom negotiations with the Sultanate of Sulu over the future of Sabah when the fate of its illegal masterpiece – the BBL (which has serious effects on the future of Muslim Mindanao, Sulu and Sabah included), is still pending in both houses of Congress? Why is Malaysia dealing with the Sultanate of Sulu when the latter has no power to decide the fate of Sabah without the participation of the Philippine government? Why is Malaysia willing to pay a big sum of money for Sabah if Malaysia truly owns Sabah? Why is Malaysia offering Sabah to the MNLF?
The answers – Malaysia wants to buy Sabah from the Sultanate of Sulu at a price acceptable to the sultanate but unacceptable to the Philippine government. This way, Malaysia hopes to legitimize, once and for all, its illegal acquisition of Sabah, and leave the Sultanate of Sulu to do the explaining to the Filipino people. After it buys Sabah, Malaysia will offer both Sabah and Sarawak to the MNLF – but only if the MNLF succeeds in establishing an independent Bangsamoro Republik, which will require a dismemberment of the Republic of the Philippines. Once the Bangsamoro Republik is established, Malaysia will likely invite the Bangsamoro Republik to be part of the Malaysian Federation. In the end, Malaysia will get more territory than it bargained for. Undoubtedly, therefore, Malaysia does not really care about peace in Muslim Mindanao. It is only interested in expanding its territory to include several provinces in Muslim Mindanao and the province of Palawan.
Such underhanded tactics are in violation of international law. The Sultanate of Sulu had already assigned its right to pursue its claim to Sabah to the Philippine government. According to a fairly recent ruling of the Supreme Court, the Philippine government has not abandoned the Sabah claim.
The same underhanded tactics reflect the slippery character of Malaysia’s diplomatic relations with the Philippines. In brief, while Malaysia awaits the fate of the BBL, it undermines Philippine sovereignty by negotiating with the Sultanate of Sulu without including Philippine authorities. While Malaysia openly supports the MILF in seeing the BBL through, it secretly negotiates with the MNLF (the rival of the MILF) and entices the MNLF to create another political entity (different from the one in the BBL) which, because it includes Palawan and some Mindanao provinces in the equation, will dismember the Republic of the Philippines.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario should investigate these underhanded tactics and require the Malaysian ambassador to the Philippines to explain why these backroom talks are actually transpiring behind the backs of President Aquino and Congress.