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Modern Boundaries and Migration – Sabah Philippines Relations

Organiser:
Azliana Abdul Aziz
Ohio University
azliana.aziz@gmail.com

Chair:
Alice Nah 
University of York
alice.nah@york.ac.uk

 

Panel Abstract

On February 11th 2013, Agbimuddin Kiram, brother to the proclaimed Sultan of the now defunct Sulu Sultanate, Jamalul Kiram III, with approximately 200 militant followers infiltrated Malaysia’s easternmost state, Sabah. The Royal Sulu Army, as they were known, seized Kampung Tanduo in the district of Lahad Datu and stated intent of asserting their claim to Sabah through militant force. The insurgency that culminated in 68 deaths and the capture of 121 militants ended officially on 11th March with Kampung Tanduo proclaimed secure. However, this incident is the tip of a larger problem. Malaysia still pays a sum of RM 5,300 per annum to the heirs of the Sulu Sultan, a payment Malaysia considers a cession payment, but which the heirs claim to be rent. The Philippines has a dormant claim on Sabah through the Sulu Sultanate. Though Philippines officials have publicly announced on numerous occasions that the claim will not be pursued, the contrary has also been proclaimed with the Philippines urging Malaysia to resolve the issue through the International Court of Justice. Against the backdrop of this political power struggle, the growing population of stateless Filipinos is given no attention. For decades, Sabah has been subjected to illegal migration from the Philippines and Indonesia and houses an estimated 1.9 million undocumented migrants. Filipino migrants enter the state through its porous sea borders to flee unrest in Southern Mindanao and seek economic opportunities. This panel addresses the migration patterns including the socioeconomic conditions of undocumented Filipino migrants in Sabah, security issues and diplomatic relations between Sabah and the Philippines.

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Paper 1: Filming the Repercussions of Ambiguous Boundaries: Insurgency in Sabah

Azliana Abdul Aziz
Ohio University
azliana.aziz@gmail.com

Vilashini Somiah
Ohio University
vs165211@ohio.edu

Matthew Fillmore
Ohio University
mattfillmore@gmail.com

Sabah, Malaysia’s easternmost state in Borneo, is home to an estimated 1.9 million undocumented migrants. For decades, Filipinos have been making a living in the informal economy of urban areas across Sabah. Migration occurs for several reasons: some seek safety from ongoing political-religious conflict; some seek to improve their socio-economic condition; and finally, some claim that Sabah was once theirs. Thousands migrate every year through the porous sea borders, and due to lax marine security, their numbers have mushroomed significantly since the 1970s. The problem reached a critical point in March 2013. The Defunct Sultan of Sulu and 200 armed men infiltrated Sabah, taking a stand in one of the villages, urging the Malaysian government to release Sabah to them and to admit to years of mistreatment of southern Filipinos. In 2012 the presenter, as Anthropologists/filmmakers, embarked on a journey to film the lives of undocumented Suluk (Tausug) and Bajau (Samal) families. Through interviews with a sample population of Suluks and Bajaus in the town of Lahad Datu, this paper tracks the social problems that the subjects endure prior to and during the recent insurgency. The actions and inaction of the Philippines and Malaysian governments throughout the years will also be examined, in particular the actions of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who naturalised Suluk migrants during the 80s (Project IC), an action that contributed considerably to the current problem.

 

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Paper 2: Stateless Stakeholders, Seen But Not Heard: The Case of the Sama Dilaut in Sabah, Malaysia

Helen Brunt
Independent Scholar
helen.brunt@gmail.com

Natural resource management and local livelihoods constitute an integrated and complex area of study, frequently involving multiple stakeholders with competing interests and priorities. It is widely acknowledged that some stakeholders have more power and more influence than others. Stateless people, vulnerable due to their lack of citizenship, are often excluded from decision-making processes that affect them. The Sama Dilaut (also known as Bajau Laut) are a largely stateless maritime community living in the coastal region of the east Malaysian state of Sabah. This paper investigates how the condition of statelessness affects the extent to which meaningful participation in marine conservation management can occur, and how institutions involved in this management perceive and respond to stateless people. By focusing on stateless people without political recognition in Malaysia, this paper contributes to an increased understanding of the vulnerable position of stateless people in a multi-‘racial’ country and the dynamics of natural resource management involving multiple stakeholders.

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Paper 3: Foreign Locals: Problematic Identity Amongst the Children of Filipinos in Sabah, East Malaysia

Dr Catherine Allerton
London School of Economics
c.l.allerton@lse.ac.uk

This paper examines problematic issues of identity and belonging amongst young second and third generation ‘Filipinos’ living in Sabah. These young people are the children and grandchildren of refugees and migrants who have come to Sabah from conflict-ridden areas of the southern Philippines since the 1970s. Although these children were born in Sabah, their ‘Filipino’ (Suluk, Bajau, Cagayan and Yakan) ethnicity means that they are considered ‘foreigners’ by most Sabahans. In addition, many of these children and young people are undocumented and at risk of statelessness, and have limited access to education. Based on fieldwork in Kota Kinabalu from August 2012 to August 2013, this paper describes the ambiguities of belonging for children and young people who may be perceived as ‘aliens’ and ‘illegals’, but who often lack any strong ties to, or interest in, the Philippines. It does this in part through a comparison with the much stronger attachments to the parental home country experienced by the children of Indonesian migrants. More broadly, the paper shows how the Philippines’ historical ‘claim’ to Sabah, as well as the Lahad Datu incident of 2013, continue to have real, complex repercussions on the ground for Suluk and other migrant families who have made Sabah their home.