By Ida Lim
KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — The incursion by Filipino militants into Sabah and pockets of armed foreigners in the state show that “Project IC” is haunting Malaysia even as a royal panel investigates the citizenship-for-votes scandal, say analysts.
The claim on Sabah by the self-styled Sultan of Sulu was also “unfair” to Sabahans, said one academic, commenting on the three-week standoff between armed militants and security forces in Sabah’s eastern seaboard.
“The ongoing security crisis reveals yet another dark and unexpected aspect of covert operations (Project IC) to give citizenship to foreign aliens.
“We have to ask ourselves what the architects of the Project IC have bequeathed us with? Is this some kind of sleeping monster? Have we awakened the monster?” regional observer and columnist Karim Raslan told The Malaysian Insider.
He said that Malaysia had to investigate the entire exercise, saying the authorities have to establish those responsible and “hold them to account.”
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Assoc Prof Dr Andrew Aeria said Project IC’s illegal purposes had returned to haunt Malaysians, noting that the ongoing tension in Sabah was an illustration of “policy blowback”.
“This is a case of policy blowback. The illegal, clandestine objectives of Project IC and ineffective border security (along with the unresolved historical arrangements over the ‘padjak’ status of Sabah from the old Sulu Sultanate) have come back to haunt us.
“The genuine citizens of Sabah are rightfully incensed and they cannot be faulted if they regard the BN government poorly for compromising national citizenship, diluting Sabah’s ethno-religious identity and undermining the material interests of Sabahans over the last few decades.”
The academic had referred to the dispute over Sabah’s status, with the Sultanate of Sulu contending that “padjak” refers to rent, while Malaysia says that it is a token annual payment to the sultanate to cede its rights over the land, which has been part of Malaysia for decades.
Aeria said a way to move forward would be for Parliament to convene an emergency sitting, saying: “It is for Parliament to scrutinise the actions and plans of government and to explore the way forward.”
But Sabah-based political analyst Dr Arnold Puyok said the intrusion and the ongoing Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) hearings were separate issues, although the quest for truth must be continued.
“Sabahans want the government to show some strong political will. I do not see the link between the intrusion with the on-going RCI hearing. The government must continue to find the truth through the RCI.”
The university lecturer suggested that a dialogue be held to resolve the matter.
… nobody doubts the need to maintain security and control over the operation, but it is the lack of regular information that is fuelling all sorts of unnecessary speculation. — Academic Dr Farish A. Noor
“A proper dialogue must be initiated between the Philippines and Malaysia. A legitimate representative of the Sulu Sultanate must be invited as well. The dialogue must find a long-term solution to address the Sabah-Sulu ties,” he said.
Singapore-based academic Dr Farish A. Noor described the claim on Sabah by the self-styled Sultan of Sulu as being “unfair” to Sabahans.
“How would Sabahans feel when a Filipino comes out of nowhere to tell them he is their king, and they are his subjects? I doubt that Sabahans would welcome such a claim,” the associate professor from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), wrote in an email.
He also replied to questions on reports that the Philippine government was considering the option of bringing the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu’s claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
“The Philippines can take the issue to court but I doubt it will lead to anything, for it is unlikely that any court will decide in the Sultan of Sulu’s favour for two reasons: Firstly, there are several people claiming to be the Sultan of Sulu, and so who is the real Sultan? Secondly, all the states of ASEAN have agreed to abide by their borders, and no country would make a backdated historical claim today,” he said.
He weighed in on the need for more regular information on the ongoing crisis in Sabah to prevent unnecessary speculation.
The illegal, clandestine objectives of Project IC and ineffective border security (along with the unresolved historical arrangements over the ‘padjak’ status of Sabah from the old Sulu Sultanate) have come back to haunt us. — Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) Assoc Prof Dr Andrew Aeria
“As for the conduct of the Malaysian government, nobody doubts the need to maintain security and control over the operation, but it is the lack of regular information that is fuelling all sorts of unnecessary speculation.
“A lot of the stuff we read on the Net is speculative, however, and I think what is needed is more information from the sources that are there, delivered in an open, unemotional manner.”
Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak denied the government was hiding information, saying that it needed a little time to obtain information and did not want to be accused of scaring the public.
“That is why we did not release the information (on the Lahad Datu incident) earlier... we waited a little. We were not covering up and not wanting to tell the people. We needed to give a clear and accurate picture. We didn’t want to be hasty in releasing information,” Najib was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.
A gunfight broke out between Malaysian security forces and the Filipino rebels last Friday after the armed Sulu group had set foot in Kampung Tanduo for more than two weeks, leaving 15 dead in the village, about 130km from coastal town Lahad Datu.
On Saturday night, six members of the Malaysian police force were killed in an ambush during a raid in Semporna, about 150km from Lahad Datu.
Yesterday, an armed Filipino militant was reportedly beaten to death by local villagers in Sabah, while the Sulu rebels claimed that they have captured several Malaysians and are holding them hostage.
The RCI hearing on Sabah’s illegal immigrants issue before a five-man panel led by former Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong resumes tomorrow.