The New Sultan of Sulu

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Sabah-based businessman Datu Mohd Akjan bin Datu Ali Muhammad has certainly upset the locals in East Malaysia. Seen by many here as a rank opportunist and an ungrateful Filipino refugee, Akjan made his bed by proclaiming himself the Sultan of Sulu.

Dressed in white, perched on a small golden throne and surrounded by friends and relatives, he made the move as part of a ceremony at his suburban home in Kota Kinabalu a month ago. He even has an interim government headed by Prime Minister Datu Albi Ahmad Julkarnain, who said Akjan had been installed as the 33rd reigning Sultan of the Sulu Sultanate after taking his oath of allegiance in a private yet symbolic ceremony.

Significantly, the self-anointed ruler's declaration ignores Filipino sovereignty over a large chunk of the Southern Philippines, and includes a claim of Sabah coming under his jurisdiction. Groups like terrorist outfit Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have apparently sworn allegiance to the new Sultan.

In claiming himself to be the real Sultan in exile, Akjan is basically saying the current government of Sulu, backed by the Philippine government, is illegitimate—Manila has recognized Esmail Dalus Kiram II as the rightful Sultan of Sulu.

It’s a very messy issue and serves to highlight the mistrust Sabahans reserve for politicians in West Malaysia and Filipinos who would prefer sanctuary in Sabah to heading north to safer pastures in their own country.

The Philippines doesn’t recognize Malaysian sovereignty over Sabah on the northern tip of Borneo, which is why Manila refuses to dispatch a permanent envoy to look after its citizens who fled decades of fighting in the Southern Philippines. To establish a consulate in Kota Kinabalu would be tantamount to recognizing Kuala Lumpur’s legitimate claim over the state, so to sidestep this awkward diplomatic impasse Malaysia pays a peppercorn annual rent for Sabah to Kiram.

Akjan’s claim was widely reported in East Malaysian newspapers but ignored in the West, where the pro-government press would have preferred this story simply went away.

Akjan is a Malaysian citizen and has been a member of the powerful United Malays National Organization (UMNO) for two decades. The question of how he actually secured Malaysian citizenship keeps coming up, and he was also once detained under the Internal Security Act for fabricating identity cards for immigrants in Sabah.

There are also religious overtones. Traditionally, Sabah is predominantly Christian and has always enjoyed close relations with the local Muslim population, which practices a more relaxed form of Islam than what is usually observed in West Malaysia or the Southern Philippines.

Ajkan is one of perhaps one to two million refugees or illegal immigrants—nobody really knows the actual figure—who fled civil war in Mindanao. Nearly all are Muslims, and they make up a substantial part of the total population, estimated at about 3.1 million.

They weren’t invited into Sabah, but were still welcomed given the harsh realities created by conflicts involving ASG, communist insurgents, Moro rebels and hard-line Islamic militants. But the sheer numbers have fueled speculation among opposition politicians that the ruling Barisan Nasional federal government—of which UMNO is the lead party—has organized the registration of illegal immigrants as citizens so they would then vote for the ruling coalition.

UMNO endured its worst performance so far in the 2008 and federal elections and an early poll has been widely touted. Most believe BN and UMNO’s future will hinge on how the East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah vote.

Unlike most refugees, Akjan lives well. He isn’t forced to live in one of the United Nations initiated Kampungs for refugees, which are a true blight on the world body. Instead, he has a regular home in Likas, a middle class Muslim suburb just north of Kota Kinabalu.

The 53-year-old father of 28 has had four wives (one is deceased) and holds a range of financial interests in construction, transport and oil distribution. He also has a PhD in business studies from Preston University in the United States.

In taking the throne, Akjan has stressed the Sulu Sultanate is not a part of the Philippines and never has been, which isn’t exactly what the people of Sabah want to hear (he claims them, too). This kind of talk has fueled the conflict in the Southern Philippines for more than four decades, and turned much of Sabah into a refugee camp.

The Sulu Sultanate once stretched from Sulu to the Palawan islands, the Spratlys and Basilan to parts of Borneo, including Sabah. The Sultan of Sulu obtained Sabah from the Sultan of Brunei as a gift after helping to suppress a local insurgency. The British later leased Sabah and transferred control over the territory to Malaysia in 1963 when Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined the Malaysian Federation, supposedly as equal partners with West Malaysia.

That should have been where the matter ended.

Comments
9
bendahara patih
April 29, 2013 at 12:49

Sabahans and majority of filipinos are kin and related to each other. Borneo, he southern philippines, the bisaya region and southern luzon were part of the bruneian empire. In the 12th century, the bruneians fled to he central visayan island of panay and established their own state due to a war of succesion, the ones remaining in borneo, the bisaya had to be constantly on the move. As brunei weakened, it lost its territories, up to the point where the brunei royal family had to ask help from their sulu cousins. The royal family was so fractured that when he spanish came, they found it easy to pick off territory. Upon the arrival of magellan, the rajahs of butuan, bohol, panay, cebu, souhern tagalog wre under the madyaas confederation, the same confederation formed by the bruneian exiles. Sulu, manila, and mactan, mindoro were loyal to brunei. The spanish practiced divide and counquer, promising help to each of the rajah to control the bruneian throne, they supported humabon of cebu vs kaliph pulako aka rajah lapu lapu who is humabons brother in law, supported rajah sikatuna of butaub vs his brother of sulu, and rajah muda sri lela vs his brother the sultan of brunei. Brunei was so weakened that it failed to support and reinforce seludon/manila leading to the capture of rajah aceh/matanda and death of rajah muda suleiman. The spanish burned brunei. History shows that the problems are complex. The western imperialism and its recently created nations states in SEA just made the problem bigger by dividing and pitting one against the other. This new sultan is a divide and conquer tool, employed by KL. You cant turn back time but you can fjx the mess by recognizing the fact that suluk and filipino bisaya have been living, travelling and have considered sabahtheir home even before malaysia existed. These modern borders are like israeli barriers designed to separate and kill the bornean nation.

oscar moralde
March 12, 2013 at 14:15

What is mine is mine, what's yours is mine. How could we have peace in this World.

 

Achan
March 8, 2013 at 23:39

The situation is like Kashmir in India.  There muslim are majority, supported by Pakistanis with exiled Khashmiri Hindu Maharajah.  In Sabah Christians are majority, with Islamic Sulu Sultan supported by the Philiphinos.  Look like, the situation won't be ended up soon. It need to be visualized comprehensivelly with sincere and fair solution from both sides.       

Ams'trong sulu
August 23, 2012 at 08:54

i hate united borneo front (UBF) i love 1 malaysia hidup UMNO….UBF mati…
 

Ams'trong Sulu
November 14, 2011 at 17:46

no party can be prejudiced concerning the right of spratly Islands inside sulu economic zone, until finally resolve by the international court of justice.
Sulu never be part of the Philippines, China, Malaysia and other countries in Asia.
Sulu have her own government The SULTANATE OF SULU. the territorial dispute claim by China and the Philippines are international scandal.
better return to SULU.

Saniah
October 21, 2011 at 20:02

I would understand that at the time of Sabah joining Malaysia , the territorial dispute between Mindanao/ Sulu Sultanate and the Manila government was still unresolved even till now.

Perhaps ( just suggesting) if the Sabah Sultanate could join Malaysia as a state just like Pahang, Kedah and others, this could settle the matter once and for all. Furthermaore arent we all Malays and Muslim brothers.

samad
July 16, 2011 at 21:54

WE ARE NOW A YOUNG CITIZEN OF THE WORLD, WELCOME TO THE CHALLENGE OF SACRIFICES TO LEAD AS ONE IN JOINING HAND AND HEART AND A PRAYER FOR THE PEACE OF THE UNIVERSE, TOGETHER WE ARE ONE,…ONE HEART, ONE VIOCE, AND ONE DREAM FOR THE CITIZEN OF THE WORLD…

WE SULU PEOPLE TO LOVE YOU ALL AS ONE, AND WELCOME YOU ALL TO THE DELICIOUS TEST OF OUR MILK AND OUR BREAD IN OUR BASKET, AND WE STILL HAVE NOW A DEPOSITE OF CHICKEN RICE IN OUR SPRATLY ISLAND, INSIDE SULU ECONOMIC ZONE NEAR PALAWAN ISLAND. THIS IS NOT ONLY FOR AS SULU PEOPLE, BUT FOR YOU AND FOR ME AND THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE…

DEAREST CHILDHOOD, PLEASE HELP US,…TO PROMOTE PEACE IN THE UNIVERSE, FOR THE HARMONY OF NOT ONLY ONE COUNTRY,… DON’T JUST PUT OUR HEAD AND MIND IN DISCRIMINATION, OR TRANSFORMATION OF THE PEOPLE RIGHT INTO OUR RIGHT, BECAUSE THIS KIND IS THE EVOLUTION OF THE EVIL…ALLAH MADE THE UNIVERSE FOR THE SHARING OF EVERY CREATION, AND PEACE BE UPON “HIM” THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE.

DEAREST FATHER OF ALL THE NATIONS,…PLEASE JUST US, FOR NOW WE ARE INCAPACITATED, BECAUSE, WE SULU PEOPLE BECAME THE VICTIMS OF THE EVOLUTIONIST,

DEAREST “ALLAH” UNTO YOU WE ASK FOR HELP,…YOU ARE THE ONLY SIGN OF ALL POWER, AND YOU ARE THE LORD OF THE UNIVERSE, THE MOST MERCIFUL AND THE MOST COMPASSIONATE…BLESS US THE CHILDREN OF ADAM, UNTO TO YOU, WE SHALL BE RETURN.

COMMENTED BY: SULU CHILD @ (PTI)

samad
July 16, 2011 at 18:42

WHY THE UPKO president tan sri bernard dompok still not satisfied to the Malaysian government on handling the Sulu people in the state of sabah?…and he still want the government to investigate the Sulu people in the state of sabah through the royal commission of inquiry(RCI)…well,well,well…thats not a problems to us for the investigation of RCI, but first of all, should the government to investigate first the DNA of all the people of Sabah including tan sri bernard dompok, for where their origin was cam from, and their biological image, for where their ancestor came from?. 2nd to investigate the historical background of every ethnic, for about their sovereignty, jurisdiction, territory, government, custom and tradition, sea, etc. 3rd the ethnics of north Borneo during the time of the power of sultanate of sulu. 4th. investigate if the Sulu peoples are the people of north Borneo (sabah)?…therefore who are the people of north Borneo?, are they people of Sulu? in their right of sovereignty in the lease agreement with the British in 1878?…are this people illegal immigrant?…we should tanks to the Sultan for dropping sabah claim. but dompok still want to deport sulu people…whats wrong? is he dompok learn history during study? and learn international law?
…for us we should unite as 1 MALAYSIA 1 flag, 1 voice, and 1 dreams, not to discriminate each other…brother dompok you are not alone as a citizen of Malaysia or citizen of the world. God create the Universe for us. maybe you still like to stay on this earth until the day of resurrection. thank you,…..and wassalam….sulu pti

samad-zul
June 23, 2011 at 12:12

malaysia said in ICJ (international court of justice) as a successor of the sulu sultanate, during Malaysia vs Indonesia on sipadan and ligitan case,…how can malaysia discriminate and maltreat and deport sulu people to sulu? Malaysia shoud be responsible to the people of sulu. if not…the sipadan and ligitan CASE will becoming international scandal.

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