It's unlikely Sulu sultan acted alone


SUSPICIOUS: Jamalul Kiram III entertained a cohort of Philippine opposition figures in the lead up to the Sabah intrusion

   THE  flag-waving in  Malaysia and the Philippines right now is to be expected at a time of war-like conditions prevailing in the east coast of Sabah.

But lest anyone forgets, everyone -- including the secretary-general of the United Nations -- must recall how it all got started. We all must wonder what the so-called sultan of Sulu had been thinking when he directed some 200 of his armed men to land in Sabah and occupy a village for weeks on end.

The resulting stand-off simply cannot continue. Ordinary Malaysians have grown impatient with the perceived inaction of the government in the face of what The Economist magazine had described as an "invasion" long before Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak finally lost patience and unleashed the full might of our military against the armed band.

Blame, therefore, goes to Jamalul Kiram III and nobody else for everything that followed from there on.

The United States invaded two sovereign countries in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks to make it abundantly clear that nobody and no nation attacked it with impunity.

It has to be clear to the Sulu troublemakers that once the Malaysian government ordered a strike against them, there cannot be any further talk of negotiations except to talk surrender. The group may prefer now to consider "disengagement" but it will essentially mean the same thing.

It is ludicrous for anyone to take seriously a group of armed bandits now loudly advocating "ceasefire". War criminals are hunted down, not engaged with.

This bunch has much to answer for: causing havoc and disturbing the peace in a neighbouring country, disrupting Sabah's thriving economy, endangering the lives and livelihoods of nearly a million Filipinos in the state and gradually snuffing the very life out of the Sulu archipelago as a virtual blockade disconnects supply lines from Sabah to those islands.

Jamalul Kiram, who is on virtual life-support, may be somewhat forgiven for not really thinking through all these consequences before ordering his followers to enter Sabah illegally. In fact, it increasingly begs credulity that he had acted alone.

It has now come to light that in the lead up to the Sabah "invasion", Kiram had been entertaining a string of rather interesting Filipino personalities at his home in a Manila suburb.

There was, of course, Nur Misuari, the discredited former governor of Muslim Mindanao. And then there was Norberto Gonzales, national security adviser under former president Gloria Arroyo.

Another colourful figure consorting with the sultan was Pastor "Boy" Saycon, a "political strategist" linked to Jose Cojuangco who had been a thorn at the side of his sister, the late president Corazon Aquino, and now of his nephew, President Benigno Aquino.

  In addition, Arroyo's former officials, such as Rigoberto Tiglao and Ricardo Saludo  -- both former international journalists -- had prominently castigated Aquino for his handling of the situation in Sabah   in The Manila Times, a newspaper controlled by Dante Ang who was a central figure in a corruption scandal that caused the ouster of former president Joseph Estrada, now a key oppositionist in league with Vice-President Jejomar Binay and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile against Aquino.

Aquino has since launched an official investigation into a possible conspiracy linking at least some of these personalities to the Sabah misadventure.

Arroyo, now under detention in a military hospital, has obvious reasons to want to politically undermine her successor in upcoming legislative elections for hounding her endlessly over charges of widespread corruption during her presidency.

If the conspiracy theory holds, it will at least be easier to understand what lies behind such a seemingly senseless act as the Sabah "invasion".

It will not be the first time when seemingly disparate opposition forces coalesced against a common political enemy in the Philippines' highly toxic political culture.

Nothing seems sacred and untouchable as the political elephants dig in for a fight in Manila.

Thoughtful Filipinos blame their own "crab mentality" for this tendency to pull one of their own down when he or she seems to be making headway.

Not only will Filipinos in Sabah and Sulu suffer disproportionately as a result of the Sabah disaster but the promising Bangsamoro peace agreement may also be in jeopardy if Aquino's political troubles mount.

Self-proclaimed sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III meeting reporters at his home in Manila on March 6. AFP pic

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