By Amde Sidik
ESSCOM- Eastern Sabah Security Command was set up in April 2013 to quelled the rampant activities of kidnappings and abductions along the coastal areas of the East Coast of Sabah.
The Eastern Coastal of Sabah has about 1,400 kilometers long stretching for the district of Kudat to Tawau, in between are Sandakan, Kunak and Lahad Datu
In general, people view ESSCOM has failed to curb the abduction and kidnapping activities. This year alone has three abduction cases. The most recent was on May 6, where Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a Chinese tourist and a Filipino restaurant worker. We are yet to hear the fate of the two victims.
It reminds me less than five years ago Federal Ministers used to make statements that kidnappings and abductions in Eastern Sabah were isolated cases, this agitated local people, wasn’t until Sultan Sulu invaded Sabah last year (March, 2013) otherwise situation wouldn’t change much. The Sultan Sulu invasion was considered weird when authority had to negotiate with terrorists. Why were they negotiating is in anyone guesses.
The same old attitude
Sabah border in the east is porous but it had been nearly the same before independent. Take Tawau for example, people crossing from Indonesia’s Pulau Nyamuk to Tawau requires no inspection.
I was in Cotabato, Mindanao a few years ago when I met one dark skin guy like pirate of the Caribbean who told me he used to visit Sabah many years ago. He said he was a pirate, along their routes to and fro from Malaysia’s water he used to shoot the lights houses and when chase by Malaysian marine they would just cut loose the net that they installed earlier, that marine boat went slower and stalled. That was scary like hell sitting next to him, when I asked what he does now, he replied, he is a good man now he is a pastor. Goddess me!
Living in the East Coast of Sabah according to one respondent who said, he has to endure the scary feeling, until he has enough money to move out from east coast.
The tourism business is worse affected sector in Sabah. Some hotels owners whom I contacted said, in Kota Kinabalu, on average hotel rooms occupancy reduced to about 30 percent, some even experienced 80 percent dropped since this latest abduction.
What is this telling us? The impact of Chinese tourists to Sabah indeed is phenomenal. But people in Peninsula may not feel this because tourists from China came via direct-chartered flights China- Sabah.
But it’s the lackadaisical attitude of political leaders over security problem in Sabah for so long is the most mind-boggling.
Issue on Federal government giving citizenship to Muslims Filipinos from Southern Philippines is not new thing. The just concluded Royal Commission of Inquiry had brought some lights. Generally people can interpret while Tun Mahathir Mohammad, former Prime Minister continues to say what he wanted to say, to fool us, let him be..
Not that many Malays from Peninsula
In the 70s, the statistics of race called Malay in Sabah was only 6 percent but by 2007 it’s more than triple, in some statistics even more. This additional numbers of Malay did not come from Peninsula, records did not show otherwise but must only come from Southern Philippines and Indonesian’s Island, and they are the new Malay. Sabah population now stands at 3.2 million a head of Sarawak 2.47; expert says Sabah population growth was abnormal.
Giving citizenship to Muslim from Southern Philippines would help to prolong the life span of UMNO, United Malay National Organization. Muslims immigrants easily became Malaysia citizens just because they are Muslims. A person owns Malaysian Identify Card is allowed to vote in country’s General Election, it means he is a citizen how he gets MyKad doesn’t matter.
The threat from Southern Philippines is for a long time to come after all the notorious Abu Sayyaf have family connection here and there is no sign of them retiring from doing what they capable of doing.
No need separate agency like ESSCOM
As at present set up ESSCOM needs close coordination with other agencies namely: Police, Army, Marine, political leaders and local leaders, without support from these agencies ESSCOM is powerless.
ESSCOM has neither experience nor expertise by it self, they don’t have manpower on it own.
The creation of ESSCOM is seen as unnecessary because of duplications of work beside, cumbersome networks that then who gives the final say. A former civil servant turns ‘KGB director’ now has to deal with countering terrorists, intruders, kidnapping, subversive activities, intelligent gathering, and etc, in which requiring a completely new skills and new environment altogether.
The scope of police’s work and army’s work could easily be extended to supervise Sabah’s the coastal line. The State security matters should not be made as political trade off. I still consider Sabah Police Chief would be the most appropriate person to head ESSCOM that what he is trained for. In fact a few senior police told me the idea of how to deal with Sabah East coast had been proposed long time ago.
Issue of Control
Control is one of the most important elements here until ESSCOM is in control; we may back to square one. Resources must be made available when required, no time lag, facilities such as high-speed boats, vehicles, weaponry, helicopters and personnel back up system are ever ready.
Outmoded police and army facilities must be replaced. Confident building needs to be emphasized especially with the introduction of the latest technology-this peripherals are a must, but the problem is, terrorists’ speedboats are faster than our police marine. Apart from that intelligent gathering must be sophisticated enough to counter the enemy.
In my recent discussion with a former Superintendent police who served in Lahad Datu for several years Kamis Daming, and another was Zulkifli Ismail a former Sabah Security Director who said, the most practical thing to do is to break the coastline into manageable parts, for the purpose of this discussion let say, the government builds 5 stations serves as entry in and out points on the coast along the 1,400km, which means one station for every 300 km. These stations are equipped and manned with modern facilities. Logistically sophisticated competent to beat the intruders. Constant observations, monitoring, patrolling, contacts and routine exchanges of security activities with other stations.
Let say build 5 platforms, ala oil rags on the sea, for every say 300 km or may be 3 platforms, one platform for every 500 km. The functions of the platforms are the same as stations in mainland mentioned above, except structures of platforms are built on the sea instead of on land.
Impressively built platforms would create tough image and authority means serious business. Equipped with modern security facilities include among them airstrip or landing pad for helicopters. Spending money on facilities like this is more meaningful than buying submarine, which can’t even ‘swim’. Again each of these platforms serves as point of entries
Last but not least, local an orthodox knowledge may still be required I was told mundu (local name for pirates) from Southern Philippines believed in superstition and still very much as part of their culture, they therefore do thing based on what they learnt from their ancestors was discovered by polices over the course of their duties in this region, for example, mundu strikes on certain organised timeframe they do it based on their beliefs, meaning, they don’t strike rampantly but calculative about the date, time or even places. May be with this knowledge would help security officers to take extra measures what part of the year would mundu likely strike sound more like 1bomoh
Amde Sidik is Director of PIPPA [Progressive Institute of Public Policy Analysis, Sabah] Former lecturer in law, and International Institutions & Political Environment at local and foreign Universities.