Tawi-Tawi fears violence from standoff
TAWI-TAWI, Philippines - The local population in Tawi-Tawi fears potential violence spilling over from the standoff in Sabah a week after a group of militants crossed over there to assert a historical claim over the territory.
Armed supporters of one of the self-proclaimed heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu are now riding on a boat back to the Philippines from the island of Borneo, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov Mujiv Hataman said on Tuesday, February 19.
Hataman added that Tawi-Tawi locals are afraid that the gunmen, supporters of the Kiram family, will provoke further in the province, located just a few kilometers away from Sabah.
The livelihood of business owners has also been affected by the tension.
"Muslims [should] stop fighting. It's important to talk about this conflict in a peaceful manner," the ARMM governor said.
The Kiram family is one of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu, which ruled over many islands in the Sulu Sea including what was known then as Northern Borneo, now Sabah.
Sulu and its sultan once controlled parts of Borneo, including the site of the current standoff between a group of Filipinos and Malaysian security forces.
The heirs of the sultan have been receiving a nominal yearly compensation package from Malaysia under a long-standing agreement for possession of Sabah, a claim that has not been actively pursued by the Philippines since 1964.
Hatarman said that Sultan Jamalul Kiram, who on Sunday told the media in Manila that his followers would not leave Sabah despite being cornered by Malaysian security forces, plans to stay for now in the capital, where he is undergoing dialysis treatment.
Raja Muda Abimuddin Kiram, the sultan's brother and presumed leader of the Sabah group, traveled to the area last week from Simunul, a small town in this province.
Simunul Mayor Nazif Abduraman told Rappler on February 15 that the alleged "publicity stunt" by the self-proclaimed Royal Sulu Sultanate Army will affect thousands of Filipinos living without passports in Sabah if Malaysia decides to tighten its immigration laws because of the standoff.
Between 245,000 and 637,000 undocumented Filipinos live in Malaysia, the majority of them in Sabah, where they work in the palm oil plantations and are constantly threatened by immigration crackdowns. - with reports from Richard Falcatan and Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com