A Filipino Standoff in Malaysia
Image Credit: Flickr (thienzieyung)

A Filipino Standoff in Malaysia


No sooner had fighting erupted in the southern Philippines than a group of about 100 armed men, dressed in fatigues, fled and crossed the maritime border into Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah on the northeast coast of Borneo island. They have since been surrounded by authorities.

Malaysians are negotiating with the men in the hope that they will leave and avoid a potentially nasty confrontation, but details remain sketchy. The Philippines said the men left from Sulu, adding that the Philippine navy and military have since beefed up security around the country’s maritime borders.

Many suspect that the men are members of the much-loathed Abu Sayyaf, though this has not been confirmed.

Islamic militants and pirates have often used Sabah as a transit lounge en route from the southern Philippines to eastern Indonesia, receiving food and shelter from the state’s burgeoning illegal Muslim population.

This illegal population numbers in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps much more, and largely hails from Mindanao and the surrounding islands where Manila has battled insurgents for decades, forcing many to flee.

As mentioned in this column earlier this week, a serious push for peace has emerged with Philippine President Begnino “Noynoy” Aquino making an unprecedented visit to the troubled south where a framework agreement has been reached with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

At the same time, reports have emerged that the like-minded Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has picked up arms against the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf, regarded by many as bandits for its history of kidnappings, murder, extortion and home-spun terrorist attacks.

Lahad Datu has long been a favorite spot in Malaysia for Abu Sayyaf militants on the move, who use the outpost to re-stock their supplies and rest before heading off to the next destination.

With their local knowledge and their taste for violence, Abu Sayyaf militants kidnapped 21 tourists from a nearby diving resort in 2000. In 1985, the group killed 11 people in a Lahad Datu bank robbery during a raid staged from the southern Philippines.

Their presence is a constant in the state. However, Sabah Tourism, which is more in-tune with tourist numbers than political realities, and the Malaysian government, which is going to the polls shortly, loath any hint of negative publicity and prefer to pretend such problems don’t exist.

The Abu Sayyaf are still holding hostages, many of them foreign, and have continued to carry out their antics on Malaysian soil – a hotbed for their activities since they rose to prominence 12 years ago under Galib Andang (a.k.a. “Commander Robot”).

Achieving a lasting peace in the southern Philippines has proved elusive and many doubt the current plan will succeed. But if peace does take hold there could also be ramifications for Malaysia. And the 100 armed men currently holed up in Sabah might not be the last to make the voyage across the Sula Sea.

March 3, 2013 at 23:48

malaysian people will never keep quite anymore. this suluk people is getting crazy. now their already start a burst of fire. their will get what their want soon.. meaning to say= death to all invader.

February 20, 2013 at 02:29

Please provide a list of discounted military equipments that the US had provided to the AFP, and cite your sources. Aside from the ex-USCG cutters, I haven't found any turned-over assets after that. And I've been making a point of looking. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated.


As to Manila backing up the claim, why in the heck would it do so? Enough trouble with managing Mindanao. Do you want to add Sabah to the mix, where most of the residents prefer to be Malaysians? Unless that 300 swell to thousands and represent the majority of the local population, Sabah will be part of Malaysia.


With the SCS disputes, this confrontation is the last thing we need. Paranoia tells me that someone put up that heir and his armed group to cause a ruckus between Kuala Lumpur and Manila, or it could be a retaliation for Malaysia protecting Amalilio, who did scam millions out of Mindanaoans.

February 19, 2013 at 13:58

Sabah was part of the Sulu Sultanate since 1658 but only rent out to the British East India Company. Philippines never renounce the claim until today.

At present, Philippines is having a island dispute in South China Sea and it is only a smoke screen put up by Philippine Government. Philippine Government utimate aim is to reclaim Sabah from Malaysia because Sabah is 73,600 square km and the islands in South China Sea are only "'dots' in the map. By draging USA, Japan and etc in the islands mess, Philippine Governmaent managed to receive a lot of discounted military equipments from them. These weapons will be used by the Philippine Government to reclaim Sabah in due course. In today's news the Sultan of Sulu said he is not diarming his troops and not leaving Lahad Datu, Sabah because Sabah belongs to him. So, who is behind all these with such brave words?? Philippine Government??

February 19, 2013 at 05:28

We already have effective control, we can prove that by decimating the MILF during the all out war of Estrada. We just prefer peace than war.

February 19, 2013 at 03:48

Not even Malaysia would be able to secure the interior of the island. Clan lords have a tight rein on everything. Religion? I could tell you that for many, it's just a lip-service for the powerful. The only ones who were truly able to pacify the island were the Americans, and they had to use out and out savagery to make a point. I'm yet to see any other method that would work :(

February 19, 2013 at 00:29

Malaysia's former Prime Minister – Dr. Mahathir Mohamad (an Indian Muslim) surreptitiously gave citizenship to a few hundred thousand Muslims from the Philippines on condition that these 'new citizens' are to continuously vote for his Party – the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in every Election in the state of Sabah.

This treacherous sleight-of-hand, known a "Project M" ("M" for Mahathir), included the giving of Malaysian citizenship to members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as well as, other terrorist organizations in the southern Philippines in order to bolster the egomaniacal Dr. Mahathir's Islamic pretensions in the Region.      

The unexpected arrival of about 30 armed men to demand that the state of Sabah be returned to the suzerainty of the "Sultan of Sulu" (i.e., the Philippines) have quickly grown to a force of more than 300 armed participants, drawn from the 'new citizens' of Dr. Mahathir's treacherous "Project M". The crows have, indeed, come home to roost.

February 18, 2013 at 19:40

Isn't that a little excessive?  At most, joint administration of Bangsamoro would do the trick, no?  I'd say at least give the new agreement with MILF some time to hold and see if that works out.

Islamic Bandits
February 16, 2013 at 15:46

The armed muslim militants or bandits rather, are believed to be holding several villages in an island off Lahad Datu as hostages.  Most likely they are demanind ransom money.  The question of citizenship of the Sulu Sultanate which includes Sabah, is probably eye-wash.  Its always money.

February 16, 2013 at 09:56

Perhaps Aquino should do the unthinkable.  Mindanao might need to be jointly administered by Malaysia and the Philippines.  For Manila, this is better than the status quo, wherein Manila really has no total control of Mindanao, now or in the forseeable future.

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