400 Filipinos Flee Sabah

BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi - Two wooden-hulled motor launches with over 400 passengers, mostly women and children, arrived here from Sabah, Malaysia, at dawn yesterday, Governor Sadikul Sahali reported yesterday.

Sahali said the two motor launches also carried the Filipinos' household appliances, furniture and fixtures, and foodstuffs like rice, noodles, and canned goods.

"I was told that most of the passengers were women and their children, since their husbands had to be left behind to avoid being arrested by the Malaysian navy who are patrolling the boarder to the country," Sahali said.

He said reports reaching him indicated that the Malaysian police are arresting Filipino Muslim men found returning to the Philippines, accusing them of conspiracy with the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu.

Once arrested, the Malaysian police will beat them up with "rattan sticks" until parts of their body, particularly their buttocks, bleed.

He also reported that Malaysian authorities are now preventing Filipino-Muslim children from attending their schools in Sabah, asking them to go home to the Philippines.

This is one of the reasons, he said, many children arrived here with their mothers early this morning (Saturday morning). They have to leave Sabah to avoid being imprisoned by the Malaysian government.

Sahali said his province continues to receive Filipinos from Sabah and expressed fear that the province food supply might run short in the coming days as the province is dependent on Malaysia for its major foodstuffs, like rice, noodles, and canned goods.

Now that the Malaysian government has imposed embargo on Filipino-Muslims, prices of Malaysian commodities sold in the province have increased, he said.

With food supply running out, local traders have no option but to make purchases in Zamboanga City.

As this developed, the Sultanate of Sulu welcomed the new initiative of the United Nations concerning the Sabah standoff.

"It showed the UN believes in the cause of the sultanate," said sultanate spokesman Abraham J. Idjirani, speaking for Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Ambassador Hussein Haniff, Malaysia's Permanent Representative to the UN on Saturday in New York, and reiterated his hope for the situation in Sabah to be resolved as soon as possible.

Ban also expressed his aspiration to Haniff that efforts will continue to be made to ensure respect for human rights and to avoid further loss of life.

The secretary-general likewise noted the efforts that were made by the governments of Malaysia and Philippines to find a peaceful resolution to the situation

Idjirani also said Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram called up the sultan at 7:08 a.m. yesterday, saying they are in good condition.

Rajah muda said the Malaysian bombardment continued yesterday, but on a lesser magnitude.

He also belied Malaysia's claim that the sultanate has sustained 52 deaths, saying only 10 followers were killed, 10 arrested, and four wounded.

Figures from Malaysia, he said, are "lies, fabrications, and black propaganda."

He added that they have received reports that some Filipinos, acting on their own, "overran a camp in Lahad Datu." However, this report can't be verified independently.

Sabah Is Ours

Meanwhile, Idjirani debunked claims by Rural and Development Minister Datuk Seri Mohammad Shafie Apdal that Malaysia has historical basis to claim Sabah.

Idjirani said "Malaysia derived its title to Sabah (formerly North Borneo) when it became heir to the British interest in 1963."

But he said Malaysia was not yet a "nation" when the Sulu sultanate and the British North Borneo Co. (BNBC) entered into a lease agreement on Jan. 22, 1878.

On Shafie's claim that the Sultanate of Sulu did not lift a hand during the so-called British invasion, Idjirani said the sultanate did not protest the British military's presence in the territory as North Borneo was "wholly under leased" with the BNBC.

He added that it is not true that the people of the sultanate "did nothing to defend" Sabah against the Japanese Imperial Army's (JIA) invasion. He said that the people of Bangsa Suluk (Sulu Nation) in Sabah, who were appointed by the Sulu sultan to oversee and monitor BNBC's activities, "fought side by side with the people in North Borneo" against the Japanese.

Idjirani further clarified that after World War II, the BNBC "transferred its alleged sovereignty rights and assets to the British Crown in 1946" because of "financial constraint" in the devastated leased territory.

This paved the way for the illegal assumption of title of sovereignty by the British government, thereby making the leased territory a part of the British colony, Idjirani said.
After the Federation of Malaya and Great Britain created a "political association aimed at gobbling up Sarawak and North Borneo, the British Parliament and the Federation of Malaya unilaterally appointed a Cobold Commission tasked to ascertain the views of people in Sarawak and North Borneo."

Shafie said the commission had gathered that two-thirds of the Sabah people agreed to be part of Malaysia.

But Idjirani said the result of the commission's work in 1962 was an "exaggerated assumption" that "led to the signing of the act relating to Malaysia on June 9, 1963 between Great Britain and the Federation of Malaya."

This gave "birth to the Federation of Malaysia" and "incorporated North Borneo as a new state of Sabah," Idjirani said.

He said that when the Malaysian government "assumed responsibility (as) stipulated on the Jan. 2, 1878 lease agreement, it changed the form of currency from British pound to Malaysian ringgit and adopted the translation of "padyak" or lease as "cession."

Since then, Idjirani said, the translation of the word "padyak" became the "crux" of the Sabah controversy.

And this still unresolved ownership-cum-sovereignty issue had grown into a bloodbath that started on March 1 when Malaysian forces attacked Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram and his followers after they refused to stand down and return to the Philippines.

The rajah muda and 235 members of the sultanate's Royal Security Force (RSF) sailed to Sabah, Malaysia on the evening of Feb. 11, arriving in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, a day after.

They said they came to Sabah on a "journey home" and live in their "ancestral" land peacefully.

The rajah muda, a younger brother of Kiram III, has repeatedly said they will not back down even amid Malaysia's massive offensive and are ready to sacrifice their lives. (With reports from Edd K. Usman and Roy C. Mabasa)