The Philippines are preparing to deal with thousands of Filipinos fleeing Sabah to avoid the violence and Malaysian anger towards the Philippines for letting this happen. Malaysia has long allowed Filipinos to freely travel between Sabah and the Philippines (they are separated by a hundred kilometers of open sea). This led to about 800,000 Filipinos living in Sabah, even though some remained citizens of the Philippines. Followers of Raja Kiram (brother of the pretender to the Sultan title) believes parts of Malaysia should be merged with areas of southwestern Philippines, and the 3.3 million people there, to reconstitute an ancient Moslem state (the Sultanate of Sulu) that once existed. Kiram was apparently also motivated by rumors that Malaysia was planning to renounce the legitimate claim the Philippines had on Sabah and stop paying the $5,300 rent (which the Filipino government passed on to the heirs of the Sultan).
Many Filipino Moslems support the Raja Kiram fighters in Sabah, but the Filipino government does not. However, the Philippines government does still support the 19th century deal that led to Malaysia controlling Sabah. Many Filipinos would prefer to renounce the claim but the claim is very popular among Moslem Filipinos, and opportunistic politicians use the claim to gain attention during elections. These claims arise because the Sultan of Sulu rented Sabah to Britain in 1878 for $5,300 a year.
The Sultanate of Sulu (founded in 1457) was conquered by Spain in 1885, and absorbed (along with the Sabah deal) into the Spanish colony of the Philippines. Spain and Britain agreed that the Sabah lease deal could continue and that Sabah would continue to be controlled by the British colony of Malaya. The U.S. took over the Philippines fifteen years later and put down a rebellion by the Sultan’s followers. The Philippines became independent in 1946, and inherited what used to be the Sultanate of Sulu and the many Moslems in southwestern Philippines who supported the descendants of the Sultans and the claims on Sabah. Meanwhile, Sabah became part of the new nation (formed from British Malaya) of Malaysia in the 1960s. Throughout all this the lease remained, as did the popular goal (in the Philippines) of ending the lease and regaining control of Sabah.
When the armed followers of Raja Kiram landed in Sabah on February 9th, Malaysia looked to the Philippines to handle negotiations to get them out peacefully. That didn’t work, because many, if not most, of the Filipino Moslems supported the Sabah claims. This made the invasion a big political issue in Malaysia (mainly because elections were coming up in June) and forced the Malaysians to send in soldiers and police, who were unable to get any real negotiations going. Behind all this was a sense of betrayal in Malaysia, where the government had, over the years, allowed Filipino Moslem separatist rebels to find sanctuary. Many of those rebels had now turned on their former host (in part for hosting peace talks between MILF and the Filipino government) and joined the Sabah invasion force.
Malaysia will continue to host the peace talks between the MILF and the Philippines government. All concerned agree that the current fighting between Filipino gunmen in Malaysia (Sabah), despite some links to the rebels MILF, will not interrupt Malaysian support for the peace deal between Moslems in the southern Philippines and the Filipino government.
The government anti-corruption campaign has made the concentration of wealth in the Philippines an issue. Forty families control 76 percent of the economy (by GDP) and tend to discourage newcomers. This involves a lot of corruption and promises by members of the 40 families (who dominate politics and usually the presidency) to end the corruption (and put cousins in jail to do so). This concentration of wealth is common in the region but is most extreme in the Philippines. For example, the top 40 families control 33.7 percent of wealth in Thailand, 5.6 percent in Malaysia, and 2.8 percent in Japan. The 40 families of the Philippines don’t like all this attention because they have been responsible for perpetuating the culture of corruption as well and are used to being in charge and largely immune from punishment.
March 15, 2013: The Philippines promised Malaysia that they would find all the people involved in the recent “invasion” of Malaysia by followers of the Filipino Raja Kiram and prosecute them.
Malaysian police arrested eight young Filipino Moslems who tried to enter Sabah in a speed boat. The eight were unarmed but believed to be on their way to join Raja Kiram.
March 13, 2013: The navy intercepted two boats coming from Sabah towards the Philippines. On board the two boats were 38 armed men, apparently fleeing the fighting on Sabah. These 38 were disarmed and arrested. The men admitted they were followers of Raja Kiram, the man leading the invasion of Sabah.
March 12, 2013: Fighting resumed in Sabah, with at least four people killed.
March 10, 2013: Malaysian anger at the invasion of the Filipino Raja Kiram and his armed followers has led local politicians to call for most of the 800,000 Filipinos living in Sabah to be expelled back to the Philippines, on the grounds that their citizenship was granted illegally by Malaysian politicians (from the 1980s to 2003) seeking votes. This scam was long ignored but was no secret. Most (57 percent) of the three million people in Sabah are migrants from the Philippines and Indonesia. About a fifth of the registered voters in Sabah are Filipinos and Indonesians granted citizenship under questionable circumstances.
March 9, 2013: Fighting in Sabah left another person dead.
March 7, 2013: Fighting in Sabah was intense and Malaysian soldiers claim to have killed at least 31 of the armed Filipino invaders.
March 5, 2013: A Chinese patrol ship off the west coast of the Philippines was seen to use a helicopter to patrol this area which China (contrary to international law) claims. The Philippines do not have enough ships or aircraft (especially in working order) to counter the growing number of Chinese ships and aircraft showing up in Filipino waters.
March 4, 2013: Malaysian police and soldiers launched a major operation on Sabah to kill or capture all of the armed Filipinos who have landed in the last four weeks. The Malaysians used mortars and air strikes to prepare the way for advancing infantry.
March 2, 2013: In Sabah armed Filipinos killed five Malaysian policemen and beheaded one of them. At least two Filipinos died in this clash.
March 1, 2013: Fighting broke out between Malaysian security forces and armed followers of Raja Kiram in Sabah, leaving at least 14 dead. Seven battalions of Malaysian infantry were then ordered to Sabah to deal with the armed Filipinos.