An Anarchist and Autonomous Community-Based Resource Center in Muntinlupa City (Manila south), Philippines

Reconnecting traditional links: a contribution to understanding the Sabah crisis

By Indokumentado Productions

Imagephoto from yahoo news


The Tausug by tradition are warriors. They have a history of resisting invasion by violent confrontation.  They are known for being tenacious and would not easily back down in asserting their autonomy. Way back during Spanish and American colonisation, the Tausug were among the fiercest enemies of the imperialists.  During the Philippine-American war, the Americans invented the 45 caliber handgun and made it standard for its cavalry due to the incapacity of the 38 caliber handgun to stop the oncoming Tausug warriors wrapped in cloth to prevent hemorrhage caused by bullets. 

 Currently, Tausug warriors are also involved in armed resistance in the southern part of the Philippines in a struggle for autonomy.

 With this background, one could easily assume that they came to occupy Sabah in order to settle the Sabah conflict by claiming parts of the island through armed confrontation. It could be assumed that through their long experience of combat, they acquired the ability to prevent casualties on their part. Their experience in war would not instruct them to attack the enemy where it has great military advantage. or where it would to provoke a powerful enemy that has the capability to crash them militarily.

 Based on statements issued by Sultan Kiram III to the public, however, they came to Sabah peacefully to claim the area which is part of their ancestral domain. They went there to establish their physical presence through non-violent means; to join the already thousands of “Filipinos” already staying there. They did not attack but prepared to defend themselves against hostile elements. Aside from historical links, the Kirams also possess documents that reinforce their claims.

 The Malaysian government intentionally sent a wrong signal to the public when it announced that the Tausug “invaded” Sabah. It was a threatening statement to legitimise their military operations against the Tausug and against the poor people of Lahad Datu and the surrounding communities. Worst, the Malaysian government issued a statement branding the Tausug as terrorists, which gives them even more justification to slaughter them.   

 The Malaysian government overreacted and deployed tanks, helicopters and even submarines. Since the crises has broken out, 63 deaths and 97 arrests related to the occupation have been reported. 

 Just like with the Spratly Islands, it is widely believed that Sabah has oil deposits. The Malaysian government is surely aware of this, so it is plausible to think that it is not the “invasion” that worries them most.

 On behalf of the Filipino people, Benigno Aquino Jr., the current president, issued an order contradicting the interest of the indigenous claim by ordering the Tausug to back down. He should be reminded that before the Spaniards came, the communities of the archipelago were part of macrosociety tied together by kinship and trade – not only in Mindanao but also in the Visayas and on Luzon . The Philippine archipelago was tightly linked to Malacca, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other communities in Southeast Asia.

 As the imperialists divided the Southeast Asian region, they disconnected these links and network that had been established through a long indigenous process.

 The current crisis is therefore a manifestation of a deeply-rooted complexity that cannot be resolved by enforcing a nationalist framework and by coercing people into recognizing systems that are alien to many communities of the archipelago.

 Traditionally, we were not bound by the limits of nation-states; the lifestyle of our ancestors was as fluid as the tide of the oceans that connect us to other places of the region. In fact, the families of Lakan Dula, Raha Matanda and Raha Soliman that formerly occupied Manila, Tondo, Bulacan, Sulu and Borneo were linked by affinity and consanguinity.

 Jamalul Kiram III and his followers have already been found guilty; the Malaysian government does not heed calls for a ceasefire and conducts more military raids instead.

 The Philippine government’s only effort is to offer a mercy ship; an insult to the direct action and courageous deed of the Tausug.

 We do not agree with waging war and we condemn those who cause hostilities; we condemn the Malaysian government for its decision to launch an all-out offensive despite calls for a ceasefire. 

 We also condemn the Philippine government because of its incapacity to handle the conflict.  Its insensitivity and insincerity became clear when Benigno Aquino asked the Tausug to go home. Instead of preparing a lawsuit against Kiram, a dialogue could have been arranged to hear the Tausug’s side. The government could have assured to explore all possible venues such as the U.N. That way, the betrayal of the Tausug could have been avoided. 

 We understand the sensitivity of the issue and fear an escalation and an even bigger military confrontation. Careful negotiation is needed. The political advisers of PNoy, as Benigno Aquino is known by many, are perhaps convinced of the inferiority of the Philippine military. But no one is talking about a war. The Philippine government has plenty of peaceful options in dealing the Malaysian government without putting the Tausug in an undignified situation.  

 Seeking a long-lasting solution to this conflict is beneficial to many of us, as the thick layers of animosity and hatred caused by hundreds of years of coercion and exploitation have already claimed thousands of lives. Respect for self-determination and the recognition of the tradition of self-organising are meaningful ways to start finding peace and development.  

 The organizational arrangement of the Tausug in a Sultanate is surely not perfect; it is characterized by social stratifications and an unequal distribution of wealth. Leaders enjoyed the same privileges  as corporate leaders and other beneficiaries of hierarchical institutions. Changing these hierarchical systems is always a focus of our work and to the desire of many communities aspiring to attain freedom and prosperity. 

 But asserting rights over indigenous space and autonomy is a radical step against the hegemony of the nation-state. This is the most important aspect of the occupation of Sabah.


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This entry was posted on March 15, 2013 by .
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