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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Another Fabrication Resurfaces

“HAS this serious allegation of involvement of Malaysian politicians with the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers been investigated?” Dr Anthony Tibok, a Parti Cinta Sabah (PCS) politician, WhatsApped me in a Sabah Politics group on Sunday.

“Is this what Nur Misuari is talking about on the involvement of Malaysian leaders in kidnap-for-ransom by Abu Sayyaf, Tuan Philip Golingai?”

The opposition politician attached a photograph of a 2007 blog report that Sabah Barisan National politicians hosted Abu Sayyaf leaders such as Ghalib Andang @ Commander Robot, Mujib Susukan and Radulan Sahiron at a five-star hotel in Kota Kinabalu a week before 21 people – nine Malaysians, 10 European tourists and two Filipino workers – were kidnapped from Sipadan island on April 23, 2000.

“Tuan Dr Anthony, that story is a lie,” I replied.

“Are you sure that the story is a lie, Tuan Philip Golingai?” wrote Tibok, a PCS supreme council member.

“I’m very sure. The details do not match,” I replied.

The 2007 report had gone viral in Sabah on Nov 3 after Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Misuari blamed Malaysia for the Sipadan kidnappings in 2000.

Several Sabahans WhatsApped me to get my take on the report, probably because they know that I had spent six months covering the Sipadan hostage crisis in Zamboanga City and Jolo island. I was privy to certain information.

“Which details did not match?” Tibok asked.

“For example, Datuk Sairin Karno (an Umno politician who is now Liawan assemblyman) has been accused of being at the Hyatt hotel meeting. The first time Sairin was involved in the Sipadan hostage crisis was weeks after the kidnapping,” I wrote.

“He headed to Zamboanga City (a Mindanao city which is a gateway to Jolo island, where the hostages were held) via ferry from Sandakan. I was on the ferry. If Sairin really met Radulan, Robot and Mujib in Hyatt, he would not have been fearful of his task, to go to the jungle of Jolo to double check the negotiations.”

“Did you spend time with Commander Robot, Philip Golingai sir?” Tibok messaged.

His question reminded me of my two encounters with Abu Sayyaf leaders Robot and Mujib in Jolo island.

Here’s what I wrote in The Star in June 2000: “Returning (from meeting the Malaysian hostages), we stopped to talk to Robot and Mujib at the Bandang Elementary School (in Talipao).

“Sitting on a school chair with a table at a stage in front of a field, Robot was fiddling with M-16 bullets from a cartridge. From the other side of the school, Mujib walked towards the stage.”

In a brief interview, Robot echoed what he had told me when I met him with the hostages on May 25 in Patikul. He said the reason for the kidnapping was to highlight the plight of the Bangsamoro on the world stage.

Robot, who spoke in Malay, also told me that he worked as an usher in (the now demolished) Cathay cinema in Kota Kinabalu. It was difficult to talk to Mujib as he could barely speak Malay.

The blog report also alleged that on July 15, 2000, three Malaysian politicians flew into Zamboanga City on a Sabah Air flight. Inside the plane was US$3mil (RM12.88mil) in 100 dollar notes. The three million dollars, the report alleged, disappeared at the airport.

Two days later, it reported, a Sabah Air flight took off from Kota Kinabalu airport with another US$3mil in cash and on arrival in Zamboanga City the money was handed over to Filipino generals.

From my understanding, ransom money was not brought in via plane. The Malaysian negotiation team had a “rivalry” with the Philippines/Libya negotiation team. And they knew that when a private plane from Sabah landed in Zamboanga City, security forces would take control of the plane to look for ransom money.

Another Sabahan WhatsApped me on the Sipadan kidnapping. He attached a photograph of a letter dated July 26, 2001, from Filipino Jamil Hassan asking for money from former Sabah chief minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee.

I asked Yong, Sabah Progressive Party president, about the letter.

“He did ask for some medical assistance. Not sure if this letter was sent to me. Malaysia does owe him gratitude for his help in the rescue of the Malaysian hostages,” Yong said.

“The letter confirms the role that we played in the RELEASE of the hostages. Jamil risked his life for Malaysians and as a result lost his job. He applied for Malaysian permanent residency but was rejected.”

Yong got involved in the negotiation for the release of the Malaysians because some of the families of the hostages had asked him for help and the “Government (PM) at the time wanted to explore non-official (some called it “back channel”) ways to seek the release of the hostages”.

“Remember it was the first ever such cross-border kidnap for ransom at the time. Unlike now, that was the first,” he added.

I was close to the late James (like some Filipino Muslims, Jamil had a Western name). We spent a fair amount of time in Zamboanga City discussing his efforts to release the Malaysian hostages.

Here’s what I wrote in The Star: “When Jamil saw the four hostages, he cried as releasing the hostages was one of the greatest achievements in his life.”

“There are people in Zamboanga and in Jolo who said adverse things about me. They said who is Jamil Hassan? Jamil is just an ordinary guy, how can he convince the Abu Sayyaf?” he told me.

The blog report, according to Yong, is “fiction based on guess work after reading bits and pieces in newsprint”.

I agree. I was there and I wrote some of the Sipadan stories that appeared in newsprint.

- One Man's Meat by Philip Golingai

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