TAWI-TAWI, Philippines – The senators leading the hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) are lukewarm to a proposal to include Sabah in the coverage of the measure.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, chair of the local government committee, and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, chair of the subcommittee on the BBL, said they prefer a “less controversial” version of the measure.
Zubiri told reporters at the sideline of the Senate consultation hearing in Tawi-Tawi on Thursday, February 8, they would like to have as little controversy behind the BBL as possible.
Angara said the inclusion of the contested territory between the Philippines and Malaysia might delay the process.
“I prefer if the BBL is silent on that because it’s such a controversial matter. If you’re silent, you’re not necessarly waiving any claims but its also different enough to begin with. There’s so many different contending factions already; we don’t want to stir the faction,” Angara said.
Aside from Tawi-Tawi, Angara and Zubiri, together with Senators Joseph Victor Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, and Risa Hontiveros, conducted a hearing in Jolo, Sulu, where the claim of the Sulu Sultanate over Sabah was raised.
Former Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan, citing the statement of former Senate president Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr in a previous Senate hearing, said the claims over Sabah and North Borneo should be part of the measure.
“Sabi ni Nene Pimentel dapat kasama North Borneo and Sabah so dapat pag-usapan. Kami naman dito sa Sulu ay handa kung ano man ang mapagkasunduan natin,” Tan said, referring to an earlier Senate hearing.
(Nene Pimentel earlier said that North Borneo and Sabah should be included so we should discuss that. We in Sulu are ready to face whatever decision.)
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III earlier told ANC that Sabah may be part of the new Bangsamoro region.
“I’m assuming Sabah, logic tells me, might be populated by Filipinos, who are muslims. Then logic tells me that they are future part of the Bangsamoro region,” Pimentel was quoted as saying in the television interview.
Sabah is a resource-rich area on the northern tip of remote Borneo island.
It was once under the control of the Sulu sultanate, which wielded power over the Sulu islands in the Muslim southern Philippines and part of Borneo. The advance of European colonialism, however, eroded the sultanate’s powers.
It officially lost Sabah in 1878, via a loosely worded contract, to a British trading company that paved the way for it to eventually join the new nation of Malaysia in 1963.
While Sabah has prospered, the remote Sulu islands are among the poorest parts of the Philippines and a breeding ground for insurgents who dream of a Muslim homeland that is independent from the government in Manila.
Descendants of the Sulu sultans have continued to receive nominal rent from Malaysia of about $1,700 (at least P80,000) per year for Sabah under a deal inherited from European powers.
In 2013, forces loyal to the Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram took over a portion of Sabah for six weeks in what was known as the Sabah standoff. – with reports from Agence France Presse/Rappler.com
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