By Edd K Usman
About 1,000 volunteers from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are pouring into Sabah to fight alongside followers of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo ((SSNB) against Malaysian forces, sultanate spokesman Abraham J. Idjirani announced on Friday, who described the news as “a very good development.”
He said that the Filipino fighters come from Western Mindanao, which include regions like Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Zamboanga Peninsula. He adds that while they do not intend to spark a war with Malaysia, they are ready to fight if they are attacked.
“This addition to the forces of the rajah muda are ready and willing to engage in a shooting war with the Malaysian forces if it can no longer be avoided,” said Idjirani, who is in Jolo, Sulu, for the scheduled April 21 rally in support of the sultanate’s Sabah claim.
“The new arrivals do not want to be called MNLF anymore. They want to be known as the Royal Army,” he adds.
Idjirani revealed the reinforcements after he was informed by Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the faction of the Moro National Liberation Front-Islamic Command Council (MNLF-ICC).
Hashim, former head of the defunct Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA) and the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA), is presently chairman of the sultanate’s Council of Shariffs.
“Shariffs” are religious leaders of the sultanate, who also have “royal blood” that can be traced to various Sulu royal families.
Hashim, who is also in Jolo for the anticipated anti-Malaysia rally on Sunday, said many MNLF members can no longer be stopped from going to Sabah to reinforce the rajah muda.
“We are trying to prevent them. But many of them can no longer be stopped because of their support to the sultanate and their anger at Malaysia because of the Sabah issue,” he said. “We have done our best to prevent them from going to prevent escalation of the conflict,” he adds.
The MNLF leadership did not order them to go, he said. “They went to Sabah on their own, not as MNLF members,” he clarified. “They were able to breach the (naval) blockade imposed by the Philippines and Malaysia. They know the different routes; they are following the routes used by smugglers,” he said. Hashim.
Hashim said the MNLF members will be on a “defensive posture,” but will not hesitate to shoot back if Malaysian forces pursue and engage them in a firefight.
The MNLF-ICC chieftain said many Moros in Western Mindanao are really angry with Malaysia for what he said were “abuses committed by Malaysian authorities against Filipinos in Sabah.”
“So, we are appealing to Malaysia to consider the claim of the sultanate. It is high time they agree to a peaceful resolution and return Sabah to its real owner. Malaysians have already benefited from Sabah for 50 years now,” said Hashim.
“We are all Muslims, so we are still after a peaceful resolution of the issue,” he said.
Idjirani said it is good that Malaysia sees that many Filipinos are going to Sabah.
“The sultanate’s many ‘raayat’ — constituents — apparently want to be in Sabah to protect both Muslim and Christians working on the island. They are not there to fight, but are ready if provoked,” he adds.
“It is a very good development that Malaysia is seeing the sultanate’s constituents are sneaking into Sabah to help the rajah muda. They will comply with the unilateral ceasefire; they want Malaysia to know they are there,” said Idjirani.
He said that at the planned rally, political, traditional, religious, women, and youth leaders are expected to join and make their voices heard in support of the peaceful resolution of the standoff.