COTABATO CITY, Philippines --- Officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Wednesday night urged ARMM residents to help defuse the conflict in Sabah by refraining from posting hateful messages on social media networks.



“Instead of instigating war, we can post messages that will remind us that Islam does not allow war and use of violence in seeking redress. Let us remind people on the Islamic context of diplomatic dialogues and consensus-building in resolving conflicts,” ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said in a prayer rally.


Hataman said the conflict in Sabah is only between the followers of sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III, and the Malaysian armed forces.


“It’s not a war between Malaysia and the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao. It is not a war between Malaysia and the Philippines either,” Hataman said.


Hataman said the bloodshed in Sabah could have been averted had Kiram’s sibling, Ismael, pursued a meeting with Malaysian security authorities in Kuala Lumpur, which Malacañang repeatedly tried to facilitate, just before the Lahad Datu hostilities broke out.


“We already had an eight-seater jet that was to fly us to Malaysia, along with Ismael, after government emissaries, through the Western Mindanao Command managed to link up with him. But plans changed repeatedly until everything fizzled out [and] that was not because of us,” Hataman said.

Ismael was supposed to have a dialogue with top Malaysian security officials on the Lahad Datu standoff before the bloody confrontations between the sultan’s army and the Malaysian forces erupted.


Among those that Ismail was supposed to meet was Gen. Mohamad Zin Zulkifle, chief of the Malaysian Armed Forces, Gen. Mohamad Zin Zulkifle and who was assigned in Mindanao from 2003 to 2004 as head of the pioneering mission of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT). The IMT helps enforce the ceasefire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


“It is wrong to say that the government did nothing to prevent the hostilities in Sabah. President Benigno Aquino III, through emissaries, tried to...resolve the standoff peacefully, but we were overtaken by (events),” Hataman said.


Hataman revealed the details of Aquino’s backchannel efforts to resolve the problem during a prayer rally Wednesday night at the 32-hectare ARMM compound in Cotabato City, attended by hundreds of ARMM officials and employees.


Hataman, in a message, recalled that they agreed to accompany Ismael and other representatives to Malaysia on Friday night, Feb. 22, to begin talks for a peaceful resolution to the Lahad Datu standoff.


But after talking to his older brother, the sultan, Ismael changed his mind, according to Hataman.


Ismael wanted the hold the meeting in Brunei or Singapore, but the Malaysian authorities preferred to hold the meeting in Kuala Lumpur or Sabah.


Hataman said the Malaysian government did not agree to a dialogue with the Kirams outside of Malaysia.


“Ismael balked from (the) dialogue with high Malaysian police and military officials after a talk with his older brother, the sultan,” Hataman said.


The peace rally began with a magrib or obligatory Islamic prayer during sunset, with ARMM employees praying while facing west, the direction of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.


ARMM officials who joined the rally said “tact and prudence” have to be exercised in posting comments on social media networks about the ongoing strife in Sabah.


“Personal views can be good, as personal reflections, but messages that tend to (incite the opposing camps) to continue fighting will not help,” said the ARMM’s executive secretary, lawyer Anwar Malang.


The ARMM’s local government secretary, lawyer Makmod Mending Jr., said they are also monitoring the security situation in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu through local officials.


The island provinces of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, both component areas of ARMM, are home to members of Kiram’s army battling with Malaysian forces in Sabah.