Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Philippine Claim to Sabah: Is It Time for a War Dance? (Part 1)

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 01:57
Written by Marvin Bionat
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Marvin Bionat

Tags: Bottom Line

At Stake

The second largest state in Malaysia, Sabah is 72,500 square kilometers (almost a quarter of the total land area of the Philippines) of natural beauty and resources, with 1,440 kilometers of coastline. A fast-growing tourist destination, it is home to the Kinabalu National Park, a designated World Heritage Site. Sabah contributes an estimated 30 billion dollars to the Malaysian economy.

The Proprietary Claim of the Sultanate of Sulu

The Sultan of Sulu acquired Sabah in 1658 as a gift from the Sultanate of Brunei after Sulu warriors helped end a civil war in Brunei.

In 1878, the Sultan of Sulu signed a treaty with the representatives of the British North Borneo Company, giving them “rights and powers” over Sabah. In return, the company promised to pay 5,000 Malaysian dollars annually.

Within the same year, Singapore papers reported that the Sultanate had ceded Sabah to the British company. The Sultan wrote successive letters to the Spanish governor-general vehemently denying the reports.

When the Sultan died without direct descendants in 1936, the annual payments stopped. His rightful heirs formed the Kiram Corporation to represent his estate, and in 1939, the Malaysian High Court upheld the Sultanate’s entitlement to the yearly payments promised in the 1878 treaty (increased to 5,300 Malaysian dollars in 1903).

Seven years after the court case, the British government assumed the rights and powers of the British North Borneo Company over Sabah. They in turn assumed the same rights and powers stipulated in the 1878 treaty, which the Sultan claimed was a lease agreement. The Sultanate continued to receive the annual payment.

The Philippine Legal Claim

In 1962, the heirs of the Sultan decided to transfer the Sultanate’s proprietary claim to the Philippine government. It was stipulated that “should the Republic fail to recover North Borneo after exhausting all peaceful means, then the transfer document shall ipso facto become null and void and the Sultan of Sulu shall be free to assert his sovereignty by other means.” Within the same year, Philippine President Macapagal made the government claim official.

Malaysia acknowledged the Philippine claim by signing the Manila Accord on August 5, 1963. The treaty spelled out that the inclusion of Sabah in the Federation of Malaysia is subject to the final outcome of the Philippine claim; that the Philippines has the right to continue to pursue the claim in accordance with international law and the principle of pacific settlement of disputes; that the inclusion of Sabah in the Federation would not prejudice the claim; and that both sides agree to bring the problem to a just and expeditious resolution through negotiation, conciliation, arbitration, or judicial settlement.

The primary basis of the Philippine claim is the assertion that Malaysia received from Britain only the non-sovereign rights acquired in Sabah by the British from the British North Borneo Company, to whom the territory had been leased by the Sultan of Sulu. Even British Foreign Minister Lord Earl Granville said in 1882 that “the Crown in this present case assumes no dominion or sovereignty over the territories occupied by the (British North Borneo Company), nor does it purport to grant to the Company any powers of Government thereover; it merely recognizes the grants of territory and the powers of government made and delegated by the Sultans in whom the sovereignty remains vested.”

Grand Deception

It was not until 1946 that a copy of the Arabic original of the 1878 treaty was obtained by the U.S. State Department from the British. The word used to transfer the territory was “padjak,” which means “lease.” This was significantly different from the treaty translation used in the 1939 court case, in which the term used was “grant” (thus justifying the use of “cession payments” in the 1939 decision). Arabic scholars agreed with the new translation. Likewise, Spanish documents used the word “arrendamiento” or rent.

In his letter to the Spanish governor in 1878, the Sultan asserted that the British North Borneo Company representatives had a new contract written after the original treaty was signed. One other significant alteration in the British version was the provision that “the rights and privileges conferred by this grant shall never be transferred to any other nation or company of foreign nationality without the sanction of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government first being obtained.” In the Arabic version, it said, “the rights and powers hereby leased shall not be transferred to another nation, or a company of another nationality, without the consent of Their Majesties’ Government” (meaning the Sultanate’s government).

(To be continued)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How Sabah fell into the hands of Sulu Sultanate

In order to establish the historical truth on today’s Sabah issues, it is necessary to write a series of articles based from documents of historical events of North Borneo or Sabah. This will give out clearly and intelligently informations to the reading public, and especially to the young generations of the Bangsa Sug people of Sulu archipelago since it is their ancestral domain.

How North Borneo now called Sabah falls into the hands of Sulu Sultanate came about during the reigning period of Sultan Muhammad Ali, the 12th reigning Sultan of Brunei Sultanate. History accounts that Sultan Bolkiah extended Brunei territories circa 1500 A.D. by conquest westward to Sarawak and eastward to Tirun territories in the northern coast of Borneo island. This will more or less reveal the extend of the Brunei Sultanate territories.

It was in the 1662 A.D. that an important event took place in Brunei. The son of Sultan Muhammad Ali was killed by the son of Bendahara (Prime Minister) Abdul Mubin. When the Bendahara explained to the Sultan trying to justify the action of his son, he realized that justice was not in his favor that caused him and his followers killed the Sultan. Since Benhadara Abdul Mubin was a nephew of the murdered Sultan, he was crowned the new Sultan of Brunei. Upon his enthronement, Sultan Abdul Mubin chose his cousin named Pangiran Bongsu as his Bendahara (Prime Minister).

After a few years, intrigues entered into their relationship, and discontented persons started to look up to Pangiran Bongsu to lead a revolt. Because of what has appeared as a growing discontent against Sultan Abdul Mubin, Pangiran Bongsu was able to persuade Sultan Abdul Mubin to transfer his residence to Pulao Chermin, an island off Brunei, and to have it fortified. Due to the popular request of the people, Pangiran Bongsu raised the revolt in Brunei town, and soon his people enthroned him as Sultan with the regal title of Sultan Muaddin (Muhjiddin). Thus, it was how Brunei to have two Sultans reigning at the same time. The civil war ensued to have lasted for more than 10 years that caused the trade activities came to a standstill and famine visited the land. The island of Pulao Chermin which guarded the entrance to the Bay prevented supplies from getting into the town of Brunei. The island of Pulao Chermin too was denied resources from the mainland. To break this impasse, Sultan Muaddin sent a message to Sulu Sultan Salahuddin, the 10th Sultan of Sulu Sultanate and who was his cousin, asking him for aid.

The first thing the Sulu Sultan did was to go to the island of Pulao Chermin and seeked an audience with Sultan Abdul Mubin. During their meeting Sultan Salahuddin reminded Sultan Abdul Mubin that it was not proper for Muslims to fight each other. The Sulu Sultan was then allowed to go over to Brunei mainland, and to persuade the other Sultan to seek the ways of peace.

During the meeting of Sulu Sultan and Sultan Muaddin both have agreed to destroy the enemies of the Brunei Sultanate. Sultan Muaddin promised further that if the island of Pulao Chermin shall be conquered with the assistance of Sulu Sultan and his warriors, the North Borneo territory should belong to Sulu Sultan. The Sultanate of Sulu accepted this offer with delight.

Since the soldiers of the Sultan of Sulu were still fresh and strong, they carried out the war with the support of the warriors of Sultan Muaddin that totally destroyed their enemies and won the war. Sultan Muaddin then returned to Brunei mainland carrying all the captives from the island, and the Sulu Sultan returned to Sulu carrying his plunder, including the royal guns of the island Sultan. The promised of Sultan Muaddin was fulfilled by giving the piece of deerskin showing the map of North Borneo territory with the Sultan’s seal. This was done on a simple and solemn ceremony which symbolized and attesting to the fact that same territory was ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu. This document was honored since ancient time and never questioned up to the present by any authority.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Why fear a referendum in Sabah?

By Joe Fernandez | January 1, 2011

The United PasokMomogun KadazanDusunMurut Organisation (Upko), a member of Barisan Nasional (BN), ostensibly fears that Filipinos in Sabah, ever growing in their numbers, will soon demand a referendum on the state’s participation in the Federation of Malaysia.

The fear apparently stems from the longstanding Philippine claim to Sabah.

These Filipinos, illegal immigrants who obtained MyKads through the backdoor, have either overtaken local numbers or are on the verge of doing so, according to Upko deputy president Wilfred Mojilip Bumburing.

Bumburing wants the National Registration Department (NRD) in Putrajaya and the federal government to undo, as promised, their MyKad mischief in Sabah before the next general election.

He must be living in a dream world of his own making. There must be something in the water in Tuaran, Bumburing’s parliamentary seat, which gives one a permanent high.
He has himself said that these Filipinos in Sabah are already on the electoral rolls as Malays and are the “real BN fixed deposit” that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has been bragging about.

Hence, his call to confiscate the MyKads from them is a sort of contradiction in terms.

In any case, Bumburing and his party should not fear any referendum on Malaysia conducted in Sabah. It will be a historical opportunity to bring closure on many issues bedevilling relations across the South China Sea. Let the weapon (MyKad) kill its wielder (Putrajaya), to paraphrase a Malay saying.

Sabah claim

Any referendum will be undertaken by the United Nations based on Security Council Resolutions. The General Assembly may also debate on it.

A UN-held referendum will disallow the Filipinos from participating in it since they are not legitimate citizens of Sabah. If anything, the run-up to the UN referendum will expose the complicity of the NRD in Putrajaya and the federal government in scams to effectively disenfranchise the people of Sabah. This would merit some sort of UN action against Malaysia under the various international conventions against racism, genocide, xenophobia, ethnic-cleansing,
marginalisation and the like.

A UN referendum must not be completely about the Sabah claim but must also take into account the fact that the Federation of Malaysia may have ceased to exist in 1965 with the departure of Singapore. This underlines the fact that the federal government has been in non-compliance on the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

The federation, discounting Singapore, was made of three territories – Sabah, Sarawak, and Malaya— based on equality and partnership. This is no longer so because Singapore’s exit saw the
resurrection of the Malaya Federation of 1957 and the admission of Sabah and Sarawak as its 12th and 13th states. In short, the Borneo states became independent of Malaysia at the time of Singapore’s exit but were retained illegally in the Malaysia Federation, now masquerading as Malaysia. The definition of “federation” in the Federal Constitution is the 1957 definition and not that of 1963.

The Sabah claim complicates the referendum process.

Not many know that the claim excludes the interior of the state. The claimed area covers eastern Sabah, which was part of the Sulu sultanate, now part of the Philippines. It also covers the northern
third of the state, which a victorious sultan in Brunei handed over to Sulu in return for the latter’s help in settling a palace dispute in the former’s favour. Sulu claims that eastern and northern Sabah were leased to the British North Borneo Company and sovereignty has since been transferred to the Philippine republic.

Sabahans will not accept a two-part referendum, that is, the interior to decide whether it wants to be independent or part of Malaysia, and the Sabah claim areas to decide between Malaysia, the Philippines and independence.

Keeping Sabah united would mean allowing the people of the state to decide whether they want independence or to be in either Malaysia or the Philippines.

Best option

Independence would of course be the best option for Sabah – as well as Sarawak. Both states can then finally enter into the federation envisaged with Brunei before Malaysia. The Federation of Malaysia was the result of Sabah’s rejection of the North Borneo Federation on the grounds that Sarawak was too poor and lacked economic potential.

The next best option for Sabah would be to become an autonomous part of the Philippines, which has the kind of human capital that can help the state enter the 21st century. The Philippine common market is also nearer to Sabah and bigger than Malaysia’s. The republic, furthermore, is also a rapidly developing country with enormous potential.

There is much in common between the native majority in Sabah and the majority of the people in the Philippines.

The Malaysia Agreement proviso that Sabah would have no official religion would be honoured in a Sabah that is part of the Philippines.

In terms of security, Manila can be expected to return the illegal immigrants in Sabah back to the southern part of the Philippines if their labour is not needed. Those who stay back in Sabah will not be entitled to local documents. If they have such documents, they will have to surrender them to the local authorities.

Sabah as part of the Philippines may be an unthinkable idea now, but it is not at all impossible.

There is too much hype about Sabah being part of Malaysia. It is all propaganda.

It is unthinkable that a native Christian from Sabah would ever become prime minister of Malaysia. But a Sabahan can become president of the Philippines if the state is part of that republic.

Malaysia has clearly failed in Sabah and Sarawak after 47 years. Both states have been reduced to abject poverty, poorer than any in the country. It is high time to put the past behind and move forward.

Again, independence would be the best option for Sabah, as for Sarawak. We only have to look at Singapore and Brunei. The former left Malaysia after two years and the latter stayed out at the 11th hour.

Look where they are now. Singapore’s economy, at US$210 billion GDP, will be bigger than Malaysia’s US$205 billion GDP this year.

Sabah and Sarawak would be able to do what Singapore and Brunei have been able to do on their own outside Malaysia.

If a choice must be made between Malaysia and the Philippines for practical reasons, the former is certainly no option for Sabah, with its poor record in the two Borneo states despite the passage of nearly half a century.

There is definitely a case here for the UN Security Council to step in.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Jeffrey wants Sabah, S’wak ‘longhouses’ back

The ambitious thrust of the third force in Sabah and Sarawak, under the aegis of the newly-launched United Borneo Front (UBF), is the return to the pre-1963 status of the two states as equal to Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia).

Third force ideologue and UBF chairman, Jeffrey Kitingan, uses an analogy to describe the pre-1963 status of Sabah and Sarawak.

“Before Malaysia in 1963, Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak can be likened to three longhouses,” said Jeffrey. “Malaysia was supposed to consist of the three longhouses.”

Unfortunately, according to Jeffrey, Malaya demolished the Sabah and Sarawak longhouses after Malaysia and instead gave both states each a bilik (room) in the Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia) longhouse. From being a federation of three territories – Singapore left two years later in 1965 – in equal partnership as per the 1963 federation, Sabah and Sarawak were reduced to being two of 13 states under the 1957 federation.

Anti-illegal immigration activist Dr Chong Eng Leong in his July 2009 book, “Lest We Forget – Security and Sovereignty of Sabah”, states that the “the federation” is interpreted as the federation established under the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1957.

There’s some dispute here among the legal fraternity as well over whether the 1963 federation really exists.

Many lawyers in the know swear that the 1963 federation ceased to exist with the departure of Singapore in 1965. The Federal Constitution was subsequently amended quietly to provide for the resurrection of the 1957 Federation of Malaya, and now masquerading as Malaysia, and Sabah and Sarawak added as two of its states. In short, the definition of federation in the Federal Constitution today is that as per the 1957 Malayan Federation and not the 1963 Malaysian Federation.

If the Malaysian Federation has ceased to exist since the departure of Singapore, then the current federation is actually the Malayan Federation and, hence, has no right to call itself the Malaysian Federation unless Malaya wants to change its name to Malaysia. Again, this is a reference to the fact that the definition of federation today in the Federal Constitution is not as per the 1963 Malaysia Agreement but the Federation of Malaya of 1957.

Illegally retained

What Jeffrey wants to know is what Sabah and Sarawak are doing in the Malayan Federation since the people of the two states were neither consulted nor did they agree to join the Federation of Malaya which, he reiterates, is masquerading today as the Federation of Malaysia.

Jeffrey sees the departure of Singapore eventually facilitating Malaya in the work of demolishing the separate longhouses of Sabah and Sarawak in the Federation of Malaysia and both states being given a bilik each in the Malayan longhouse.

If Jeffrey’s theory is legally correct, then it is incumbent on the state governments of Sabah and Sarawak to raise the issue with the federal government in Putrajaya and bring it to the urgent notice of the United Nations Security Council. The Security Council can allow the UN General Assembly to debate the Sabah/Sarawak motion before making its final ruling. It appears that Sabah and Sarawak became independent of Malaysia at the same time as Singapore in 1965 but were retained illegally in Malaya/Malaysia as per the 1957 federation.

In the event that the Security Council decides in favour of Sabah and Sarawak, then the people of the two states should decide whether they want to enter into negotiations with Malaya for the resurrection of the Malaysian Federation under a new treaty which would provide a nation of three territories in equality and partnership. In short, Jeffrey’s idea of a nation of three separate longhouses. This makes a compelling message, in its simplicity, easily understood even in the rural reaches of Sabah and Sarawak.

However, it’s not for Jeffrey alone to decide that all three longhouses should stay and work together. The people of Sabah and Sarawak, after having been cheated by Malaya for nearly half a century, may be tempted to say “enough is enough” and decide in favour of going separate ways.

Apologists for Putrajaya concede that while the 1963 Federation ceased to exist with the departure of Singapore in 1965, it in fact continued when the other three partners – Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak – continued with the partnership. The catch to this theory is that the feeling of partnership and equality no longer exists in practice and moreover the Federal Constitution makes no reference to the 1963 Federation but the earlier one in 1957.

In short, the Federal Constitution itself acknowledges that it is all about the 1957 Federation and not the 1963 Federation. This is evident in the description of the constituent parts of the federation in the Federal Constitution which takes the 1957 version and adds Sabah and Sarawak as the 12th and 13th states. Wither the equality and partnership!

Patently, there needs to be closure on this subject which is still in the legal twilight zone. It’s a wonder that the best legal minds in this country have not spotted this anomaly in the constitutional structure of the country.

Deaf, dumb, blind approach

It’s unlikely that Putrajaya will move forward on this subject and may prefer to adopt the deaf, dumb and blind approach of the “hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil”. This is the same approach it has taken on the Philippine claim to Sabah and this has further complicated the issue considering the demise of the 1963 Federation in 1965.

Many Sabahans have come around to the view that the Philippine claim to Sabah must be settled one way or other. If the International Court of Justice rules that the Philippines has sovereignty over Sabah, they say, so be it. At least, as part of the Philippines, Sabahans will have an equal chance as other Filipinos to be the president of the country. Besides, there is much affinity between the native Christian majority in Sabah – now under serious threat of disenfranchisement – and the Philippines.

This is not the case in the Malaya/Malaysia Federation where there is no hope ever of a Sabahan or Sarawakian emerging as the prime minister of the country.

UBF strategists add that Sabah and Sarawak would have been much better off as autonomous provinces in Indonesia which keeps only 30% of the revenue for the centre unlike in Malaysia where all revenue and 95% of the oil and gas revenue goes to the federal government. This is seen as the root cause of the grinding poverty in the two states, the poorest in the so-called federation.

It’s by no means exactly clear what UBF can do about the unresolved issue of the demise of the 1963 Federation in 1965. On its part, it can put together a legal memorandum on the constitutional issues raised and forward them to the Sabah and Sarawak governments, Putrajaya and the United Nations Security Council for their deliberation.

No matter what happens, this is an issue which will not go away anytime soon. However, on a brighter note, the recognition by all parties concerned that there is a serious constitutional problem here that needs to be resolved would be a good start.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Google Commemorates 112th Philippine Independence Day with a Special Doodle

Maligayang Araw ng Kalayaan sa Lahat ng Pilipino Saan Man sa Mundo!

Joining all Filipinos in commemorating the 112th Independence Day of the Republic of the Philippines, Google released this special doodle with design alluding to the Philippine Flag.

Featuring an abstract, seemingly hand-painted design, today's Google Doodle hints key elements of our national flag including the golden yellow sun with eight primary rays, three five-pointed golden yellow star and the colors Red, White and Blue.

Official sources state that our flag's white triangle element stands for equality and fraternity; the blue field for peace, truth, and justice; and the red field for patriotism and valor. The eight primary rays of the sun represent the eight provinces which declared a state of war as soon as the first revolt was initiated in the 1896 Revolution of independence from Spain, and placed under martial law by the colonial government: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, and Batangas. The three stars represent the three major geographical divisions of the country: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. [via Wiki]

Last year, Google also commemorated Philippine Independence Day with a doodle donning a more straight forward design.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Resume GRP-MILF talks–without KL

Resume GRP-MILF talks–without KL

We are glad the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will still resume despite the opposition of a lot of parties, notably the Senate and the media (including this paper). For talks should not go on unless the MILF central leadership’s sincerity and ability to control its commanders are established beyond doubt.

The calls to halt moves to resume the peace negotiations were made after 23 soldiers were killed by a combined force of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists and MILF combatants in a barangay in Basilan province on August12 to 13.

A contingent of Philippine Army and Philippine Marines were crushing the principal camp of the ASG, which had only a fully armed force of about 50. As the fighting raged the government side realized that the terrorists had the support of up to 300 MILF soldiers. In the end, the government military’s mission was a success. But the high casualty count, thanks to the MILF, was as though the incident were a full-blown battle and not a mere raid into a terrorist group’s lair.

MILF a breakaway from MNLF

A breakaway group from the Moro National Liberation Front, the MILF, since its founding in 1981, has waged an armed separatist rebellion. Less than a year after the Moro National Liberation Front signed a “Final Peace Agreement” with the government in 1996, the MILF agreed with the government on a general cessation of hostilities, paving the way for peace negotiations aimed to arrive at a peace agreement.

In 2000, when the president was Joseph Estrada the MILF leadership declared “jihad” (holy war) against the government and the non-Muslim Filipinos.

After President Estrada’s ouster and President Gloria Arroyo’s accession to the presidency, the MILF and the President herself signed a ceasefire agreement, which again allowed the rebels to have camps and territories. Meanwhile, GRP and MILF panels continued having regular and continuing talks and formal negotiations to hammer out a comprehensive peace agreement.

Despite the ceasefire, continuing talks and negotiations, MILF units perpetrated deadly attacks and bombings. The MILF leadership always claimed the attackers to be “rogue” commanders and warriors or “lost commands.”

These bloody and lethal incidents have persuaded many officials and citizens that the MILF leaders are just using the peace talks to build up strength and campaign abroad to draw rich Muslim nations to support them in the goal of establishing a separate state in Mindanao.

Last year’s attacks, in North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, caused the displacement of 600,000 civilians and the death of at least 60 persons, including government soldiers. It moved President Arroyo to suspend formal negotiations completely.

On July 28, the government and MILF negotiating heads agreed on the resumption of formal peace talks. Among the items they agreed on were (a) the revival of international monitoring teams operating in Mindanao to help preserve the ceasefire and accept complaints of ceasefire violations and (b) the formation of an international contact group (ICG) in which the Organization of the Islamic Conference (the powerful association of Muslim-majority countries) would be a participant.

Listen to MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari

We hope this time whatever the two negotiating panels agree upon would be transparent and previously approved by all stakeholders—religious leaders of the Muslims, the Christians and the Lumads (indigenous peoples), the civil society organizations and experts on the Constitution. The MILF must drop its former objection to putting the peace agreement under the Philippine Constitution.

Then the GRP and MILF sides must listen to the voice of the one Muslim leader who has signed a peace agreement with the government, MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari. He wants Malaysia to be excluded from the negotiations.

The Senate held a hearing in Zamboanga City last week to look into the August 12 to 13 tragedy in Basilan. Sen. Rodolfo Biazon had sponsored Senate Resolution 1281 seeking the suspension of talks with the MILF.

Malaysia cannot be the mediator, Misuari said at the hearing. “They [the Malaysians] cannot render justice to our case with respect to Sabah. It is well known that Sabah belongs to our people.”

Senator Biazon agrees with Chairman Misuari. Indeed, it is well-known that people from Tawi-Tawi and Sulu are cousins, even brothers, to people in North Borneo. Sabah is Philippine territory because it belongs to the Sultan of Sulu, from whom the British leased and now Malaysia leases Sabah.

We suggest inviting Indonesia to take the place of Malaysia. Brunei should also be asked to join the peace process.

Misuari wants Malaysia out of Mindanao talks

Says KL can’t be a good arbiter because of Sabah
By Julie Alipala
Inquirer Mindanao
First Posted 16:43:00 08/29/2009

Filed Under: Mindanao peace process, Armed conflict

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Moro leader Nur Misuari has said Malaysia should not be given any role, much less allowed to act as mediator, in the talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

"Malaysia is not the right mediator in this case. They cannot render justice to our case with respect to Sabah; it is well known that Sabah belongs to our people," Misuari said during the Senate hearing led by Senator Rodolfo Biazon here.

The hearing was in connection with Senate Resolution No. 1281, which seeks the suspension of the peace talks with the MILF in the aftermath of the August 12 Basilan clashes that led to the deaths of 23 government troops.

Like Misuari, Biazon said he was also against Kuala Lumpur's participation in the talks because of the Sabah issue.

North Cotabato Vice Governor Emmanuel Piñol, who has always differed with Misuari in relation to the Mindanao peace efforts, found himself supporting the chair of the Moro National Liberation Front this time.

"I don't understand why a country like Malaysia, with whom we are technically in conflict, was allowed to penetrate our kitchen, counting the kitchen knives we have, and they are running soldiers around, and this is not to the best interest of our country," Piñol said.

He said the government only has to fully understand what the Mindanao problem is all about and it will be solved even without the involvement of other parties.

"We were amused by the idea of Tony Blair negotiating peace in Mindanao; we are appalled by the suggestion of Manny Pacquiao bringing peace, and these showed how shallow and superficial the appreciation of some of our national leaders of the Mindanao problem is," he said.

Dr. Grace Rebollos, president of the Western Mindanao State University and executive chair of Peace Advocates Zamboanga, said the government and the MILF should "revisit the role of Malaysia as mediator and consider other foreign players."

"We have over a hundred countries (which could help) here and we have our criteria; considering the conflict of interest with Malaysia, we need to consider other foreign players here," she said.

Rebollos said the earlier suggestion of Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat that Indonesia can be part of the talks should be considered.

Despite their objections to Malaysia's role in the talks, those who attended the hearing agreed that the government should continue negotiating with the MILF despite recent events that suggested the rebel group had lost control of its forces.

"There is a consensus that the peace process should be continued, but my point is if we pursue this peace talks with the MILF, let us study the structure, because structure should facilitate the peace talks and not become obstacle to the furtherance of the peace process," Biazon later told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.