Malaysia eyes security ties with PH

President Aquino walks with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak after he arrived at the Perdana Putra (or prime minister’s office) in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on the second day of his state visit.

MANILA — Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak is seeking a security hotline with the Philippines, a year after clashes between authorities and Filipino Muslims claiming sovereignty over Sabah state resulted to the death of at least 62 people.

Najib met with President Benigno Aquino III in Putrajaya south of Kuala Lumpur on Friday, where they discussed the need to exchange intelligence and conduct more military and police exercises together, the Malaysian leader said.

The sultans of Sulu once ruled over both Sabah and the Sulu islands in the southern Philippines. Supporters of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III clashed with Malaysian authorities when he sent his brother and 200 armed followers to Sabah in February last year to occupy land and pursue the clan’s claim. Aquino accused Kiram, who died in October, and his followers of dragging the nation into a dispute that risked hurting relations with Malaysia.

“We should enhance further our security by holding joint military exercises,” Aquino. He added that he invited Najib to witness the signing of a peace agreement

between his government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“President Aquino has very kindly invited me to attend the ceremony, and I look forward to attending that very historic ceremony which will usher in a new era for the people of Philippines. In the case of southern Philippines, the security of peace in that area will not only benefit the people of the Philippines, but also Malaysia and the region as a whole,” Najib said.

“To add strength to that peace process, we will offer capacity building for the Bangsamoro people because the future government in southern Philippines will require them to have new skills to be part of the government in the future of that area,” he added.

Malaysia has helped broker a pact aimed at ending a four-decade Muslim insurgency on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao that has killed as many as 200,000 people.

Aquino thanked Malaysia for serving as third party broker of the peace talks since 2001.

The president had committed to campaign for the creation of the Bangsamoro – a political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The government aims to submit the Bangsamoro Basic Law being drafted by the Transition Commission to Congress by June.

National Commission on Muslim Filipinos head and government negotiator Mehol Sadain said the BBL would only contain provisions that can be implemented within the bounds of the 1987 Constitution.

“The Bangsamoro Transition Commission is allowed to identify which of the provisions that they want to be included that will need constitutional amendments. But what they can include in the BBL are only those that do not need constitutional amendments, meaning they have to work within the Constitution,” Sadain said.

The BBL will include the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed by the government and the MILF in 2012 and the four annexes on transitional arrangements, power-sharing, wealth-sharing, and normalization (disarmament).

The Bangsamoro is envisioned to have for its core territory the entire ARMM, as well as six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, namely Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangkal; all other barangays in the municipalities of Kabacan, Carmen, Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Pikit, and Midsayap that also voted for inclusion in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite; and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela.

Meanwhile, Aquino said he and Najib agreed that territorial disputes with China must be settled peacefully and according to law. Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and China are among countries making overlapping claims to areas of the South China Sea, waters rich in oil, gas and fish through which some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes run.

China agreed in July at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations-hosted forum in Brunei to work toward rules to avoid conflict in the waters, but there is still no progress yet on developing a code of conduct.

Malaysia also sees the potential for increased trade with the Philippines and has offered to train its neighbor on Islamic finance and banking.

“President Benigno Aquino III would like us to help in terms of Islamic banking, Islamic finance—the possibility of Malaysians, us, taking Islamic banking in the Philippines. I offered President Aquino that we could train Filipinos in the field of Islamic banking and Islamic finance here in Malaysia,” Najib said.

“We also discussed on the potential of halal products to be promoted between the two countries,” Najib added in a report posted at the Bernama website.

As this developed, international monitors observing Philippine government talks with Muslim rebels expressed confidence Friday that efforts to end one of Asia’s bloodiest and longest insurgencies will survive derailing attempts by hardline guerrillas.

Smaller factions opposed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s impending peace deal with Manila lack the following to block the process despite repeated acts of violence, the monitors told a news conference.

The observers, who have been sitting at protracted talks that concluded last month, also cited a strong commitment to peace by both Manila and the MILF, and growing popular support.