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Sulu sultanate wants to observe peace talks

Malacañang on Sunday pledged that a peace agreement with Moro rebels would not be “done in the dark,” but representatives of the sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo claimed they had been kept out of the loop.

They said they were aghast to learn of President Aquino’s secret meeting in Tokyo with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Murad Ebrahim because it happened less than a month after they had an “understanding” with the administration that the constituents of Sulu would be consulted in the peace negotiations.

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Abraham Idjirani, secretary general of the sultanate, said they wanted to closely watch the negotiations to ensure that its “main concern”—the Philippines’ territorial claim to Sabah—would be protected.

“We were really surprised … There was no advice to us,” he said in an interview with the Inquirer at the weekend.

Idjirani said the sultanate wanted to have an “observer status” in the negotiations.

Palace assurance

On Sunday, the Palace reiterated Mr. Aquino’s promise that all stakeholders in Mindanao would be consulted by the government.

“It will not be done in the dark. It will be out in the open for everybody to see,” the President’s deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said on state-run dzRB radio.

Idjirani said the sultanate had several concerns about the peace talks and the government could have at least “out of courtesy informed the Sultanate of Sulu” of the Tokyo meeting.

He said the meeting occurred after the two main leaders of the sultanate—Sultan Jamal Kiram III and Sultan Bantillan Esmael Kiram—had met with government peace panel led by chief negotiator Marvic Leonen.

He said the meeting with the panel was held at the Office of the Peace Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on July 7.

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In that meeting, the leaders of the sultanate told OPAPP officials their intention to “initiate what we call a caravan for peace” among the residents of the 11 municipalities of Sulu to get their support for the peace talks, according to Idjirani.

He said Kiram III was in the process of meeting different local government units, nongovernmental groups and civil society in Sulu when the Tokyo meeting happened.

Letter to President

Idjirani said that as early as five months ago, the sultanate met with Leonen and gave him a letter for the President seeking his approval of the “mandatory participation” of the sultanate in the peace talks.

He said the sultanate wanted to “invite the attention of the government that talking peace should not be piecemeal.”

“It should include all issues,” he said, adding that this included the fate of half a million Filipinos living in Sabah in east Malaysia.

Sabah is the former British North Borneo territory which the British leased from the Sulu sultanate in the late 19th century. It was federated into Malaysia in 1963 over vehement objections from the Philippines.

Historical rights

Idjirani stressed the government should include the problem of Filipinos in Sabah in its peace negotiations.

The need to keep vigil on the peace talks is to ensure that the country’s claim to Sabah will not be dropped, Idjirani said.

He said the sultanate “just wants to be in between the government and the MILF … so as to protect its interests.”

“One such example of depriving us of (our) interest is why, after the holding of the secret talks in Japan, it was immediately announced there would be oil and gas explorations in the Sulu Sea?” Idjirani said.

He insisted that the sultanate had “historical, legal and ancestral rights” over the Sulu Sea.

“What is the historical rights of the MILF in the Sulu Sea?” Idjirani asked.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, chief negotiator Marvic Leonen, government peace panel, MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro rebels, North Borneo, Peace agreement, Peace Talks, Sultan Bantillan Esmael Kiram, Sultan Jamal Kiram III, sultanate of Sulu
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