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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Autonomous Mindanao good news for Sabah, says Philippine consul

Residents evacuate as soldiers take cover during a fire fight between government forces and Muslim rebels in Mindanao, in September 2013. A recent referendum on greater autonomy has boosted hopes for peace in the conflict-torn region. (AFP pic)
KUALA LUMPUR: A landmark referendum in southern Mindanao in the Philippines could bring respite to Sabah, which has for decades struggled with illegal immigration from the country bordering it in the east.
The predominantly Muslim region has been on the boil ever since the Burning of Jolo in 1974.
Over the weekend, people in Asia’s most conflict-ridden region voted in favour of establishing the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), something Philippines Embassy First Secretary and Consul Ruel Gunabe had been hoping for.
In an interview with FMT prior to the referendum, Gunabe said the establishment of BARMM would bring lasting peace not only to the troubled region, but to Sabah as well.
The free movement of people between Sabah’s east coast and the southern Philippines continued for centuries until Sabah joined Malaysia. However, it was the 1974 battle which forced boatloads of Filipinos to seek refuge in the state.
Ever since, Sabah has been home to many of these refugees and their descendants, owing to the continued trouble in Mindanao. Many also stayed back because of better economic opportunities and Projek IC under which illegal immigrants were allegedly granted citizenship.
The influx of immigrants and their presence in the state have long been contentious issues, leading to feelings of resentment against the immigrants and repeated calls for a solution.
Complicating matters are piracy, terrorism and cross-border kidnappings in the area. At times, cross-border kidnapping gangs have also targeted Malaysian businessmen and foreign tourists in Sabah.
Philippines Embassy First Secretary and Consul Ruel Gunabe.
Gunabe says while Manila has often tried to bring peace to the region by granting it autonomy, the establishment of BARMM might be the key to long-term success.
He said this was because of the unprecedented rights granted by Manila to BARMM, including the right to self-governance and the implementation of shariah law for cases involving Muslims.
“More significantly, there is a 75:25 wealth-sharing term in favour of BARMM. So all the revenue from natural resources and economic activities will be shared in the same ratio between the region and the federal government.
“There is still the 5% annual grant from the Philippines’ entire revenue. So in terms of financial inclusion, it will really benefit them,” he said, adding that this was, to date, the most extensive autonomous arrangement for the region.
Gunabe said Mindanao, the second largest region in the Philippines, is rich in natural resources and had great potential for economic development and tourism owing to its many picturesque islands.
He added that the autonomy and resources available to BARMM would allow it to decide what is best for the region, in line with the country’s constitution.
This, he believed, would spur economic opportunities and activities which could mitigate factors contributing to crime, terrorism and piracy.
He said a safer BARMM would mean a safer region, which could boost economic activities even in Sabah and open opportunities for entrepreneurs in the state.
“Sabahans can open businesses in Mindanao, especially in the tourism sector. Not only will there be a people-to-people interaction between the two countries, there will also be better trade relations.
“The potential of Mindanao will soon be realised by many people, especially with safer waters.”
Gunabe added that the security and prosperity in BARMM could draw Filipinos who migrated to Sabah decades ago to return to their homeland. - FMT

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